WAGNER Die Walküre (Thielemann)
A bizarre concept: a 50th-anniversary celebration of Karajan’s Salzburg Easter Festival by his major disciple Christian Thielemann which comprises a new production of that event’s opening opera on a painstaking recreation of the original 1967 setting by Günther Schneider-Siemssen.
Stage director Vera Nemirova (who has already created her own Ring for Frankfurt, issued on Oehms) is, of course, restricted severely by the set’s Karajan-dictated stripped-down imitations of Wieland Wagner, sculpted tree and ring-shaped platform included. You may smile ironically at the thought of Karajan’s posthumous reactions to her new conceits attempting to break up the potentially epic monotony of a staging in these conditions. Siegmund’s Act 1 narration of his flight is upstaged by Hunding’s aggressively sexual groping of Sieglinde – but the hero’s reaction is to reach into the rucksack he conveniently carries for tobacco and filter papers and roll up a cigarette. Later the back wall in Act 2 is covered with a mirroring of the chalk-drawn dramatis personae of The Ring that Wotan and Brünnhilde have been making on the floor to help them understand Wotan’s monologue. That, plus the addition of some ram-dressed chair carriers for Fricka and some self-sacrificing heroes for the Valkyries in Act 3, is about it for original production ideas.
A for effort for the production team – but the real interest of this release is musical. Thielemann’s fourth recording of this opera assembles his strongest cast yet, one more than capable of filling the wide spaces of the Grosses Festspielhaus. The top of Peter Seiffert’s voice may no longer be a thing of beauty but it, and his instinct for the personality of Siegmund, are very much there. Harteros is a clearly projected, emotional Sieglinde. Zeppenfeld, nervous of his marriage as soon as he first sees Siegmund at home, is a convincing wife-abusing neurotic in good, un-woolly voice. Kowaljow’s Wotan is best when he is frighteningly angry. He and Thielemann present the Act 2 monologue with a detail and colour that is almost Clemens Krauss-level and, on the repeated ‘Das Ende’, even manage a reasonable facsimile of Hans Hotter’s memorable dynamics. Anja Kampe, as always, is bright, forward, intelligent and the centre of attention onstage. She doesn’t (quite) yet manage Brünnhilde’s final plea in Act 3 with the lyrical dynamite of Frida Leider or Anne Evans but is a nicely detailed interpreter of her confrontations in Act 2. Christa Mayer is more self-doubting than usual as a cleanly sung Fricka but is then given extra silent appearances to confirm and gloat over Siegmund’s fall. The Valkyries, despite a boringly safe stand-and-deliver staging, make some vocal impact.
The sound of Thielemann’s orchestra, darker-sounding than usual from more Western-based orchestras and with plangent winds and an aggressively present timpani balance, is one of the pleasures of this set. Thielemann has long been a ‘stop-goer’ in Wagner with large tempo contrasts. Now, perhaps following his Bayreuth Tristan, he is even more daringly slow in his pointing up of love and suffering. For that and the cast this set is valuable.