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Waltraut Meier (Sieglinde), Plácido Domingo (Siegmund) [Photo: Antoni Bofill]
15 Jun 2008

Plácido Domingo’s miraculous autumn

On the barren stage: a few chairs, a dark-gold hectoplasm projected on the wood panels of the acoustic chamber - nothing more.

Richard Wagner: Die Walküre

Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona
Semi-staged production
Performance of 1 June 2008

Above: Waltraut Meier (Sieglinde), Plácido Domingo (Siegmund)
Photo © Antoni Bofill


The direction was self-managed by the singing company with very few “Italian-style rehearsals” (the pun is reportedly due to Plácido Domingo himself). Despite lacking costumes and props, the bodies kept moving and interacting throughout, so that, in the end, the chairs remained empty most of the time. The “Italian-style” label was also applicable to the tenor’s German diction, with consonants softened and vowels broadly open; probably more gracefully that any native singer would, yet not marring the text’s understanding. Other than a handful of specialists, actually, who really understands Wagner’s language? Ask any educated German for confirmation…

A 67-year-old Siegmund would make news anyway, but Domingo’s is simply a miracle for clarion tones, power and tenderness. This February at La Scala, where he sang the title-role in Alfano’s Cyrano de Bergerac, I had noticed his intelligence in overcoming the disadvantages of age through the frugal management of his resources until the final act. This was a different case, since Siegmund disappears after Act 2, so no such contrivances were needed and his stage charisma could deploy right from the start in a perfect combination of acting skills and velvety vocal color.

Nobly pathetic when retelling the mishaps of his family, he unsheathed sarcasm and proud challenge during his confrontations with Hundig, conjured delicate emotions in the hymn to Spring and warlike excitement in his appeal to the sword (“Nothung! Nothung!”) at the end of Act 1. Even Evelyn Herlitzius, a mercurial Brünnhilde of no particular firmness in her high tones, could not escape his manly spell during their duet on the battlefield in Act 2. With her beautiful central range, perfect intonation, and the coy passion of certain feminine motions, Waltraud Meier’s Sieglinde proved a worth partner for the hero; as a duly hateful Hundig, young René Pape could well abuse her with his marble bass, but could hardly shake her soft dignity.

Equally well matched (so to say) was the godlike couple in the Walhalla: Alan Held, the experienced Wagnerian from Washburn, Illinois, made an embittered but quite not unsympathetic Wotan, while Jane Henschel was a Fricka of inflexible decision and generous vocal means. In the patrol of Valkyries, Michelle Marie Cook (Gerhilde) and Gemma Coma-Alabert (Rossweisse) emerged for their burnished instruments, while brave Inés Moraleda (Grimgerde) reaped additional applause and flowers from the audience because of her noticeably advanced pregnancy. Conductor Sebastian Weigle, the home orchestra and everybody else were fêted much beyond the Liceu’s usual restraint; as to Don Plácido, his (purposely?) belated appearance for the curtain calls unleashed a standing ovation that was little short of mutinous.

Carlo Vitali

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