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Richard Wagner: Die Walküre
27 May 2010

Valencia Ring: Die Walküre

The second of Zubin Mehta’s new Ring cycle on DVD, the staging of Die Walküre by La Fura dels Baus, is as engaging as the production of Das Rheingold in its innovative presentation and effective performance of one of Wagner’s most popular operas.

Richard Wagner: Die Walküre

Juha Uusitalo (Wotan), Matti Salminen (Hunding), Peter Seiffert (Siegmund), Petra Maria Schnitzer (Sieglinde), Jennifer Wilson (Brünnhilde), Anna Larsson (Fricka), Bernadette Flaitz (Gerhilde), Helen Huse Walston (Ortlinde), Silvia Vásquez (Waltraute), Christa Mayer (Schwertleite), Eugenia Bethencourt (Helmwige), Heike Grötzinger (Siegrune), Manuela Bress (Grimgerde), Hanna Esther Minutillo (Roßweiße), Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, Zubin Mehta, conductor,

Unitel Classica 700804 [Blu-Ray]

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As with the release of Das Rheingold in this set, Die Walküre was recorded live at the Palau de les Arts “Reina Sofia”, Valencia, and makes use of the staging of La Fura dels Baus, Carlus Padrissa, stage director, with the international cast conducted by Zubin Mehta. From the outset of this DVD the concept and execution of the production meets or surpasses that of Das Rheingold as the usual sound-only orchestral opening of the first act is accompanied by film productions that set the tone in evoking Siegmund’s trek through the forest, with ominous trees and wild animal. This element blends well into the physical stage that appears just before Siegmund’s first lines, which Peter Seiffert delivers with conviction.

Seiffert commands the first act, especially in the “Wintersturm” scene with Petra Maria Schnitzer as Sieglinde. At times Seiffert’s vibrato seems overly pronounced on sustained pitches, but this is a minor quibble in comparison to his otherwise fine delivery and acting. In taking the lead Seiffernt exudes the confidence of the doomed hero, which becomes a foil for Sieglinde’s response with “Du bist der Lenz” and the passage that follows. The circumscribed space expands well as the two performers play off each other in the duet that follows. The projections of the enchanted springtime in which the lovers find themselves is entirely appropriate to the musical result as Seiffert and Schnitzer interact. Schnitzer is enthusiastically overt and, as the music calls for it, subtle, with the quieter moments captured well in the sound of the Blu-ray recording. The intimacy suggests the effect Wagner would achieve in the second act of Tristan und Isolde, a work whose gestation intersects this part of the Ring cycle. Yet the moment in which Sieglinde begins to suspect Siegmund’s identity is particularly effective, suggesting the intensity Leonie Rysanek would bring to this scene and articulated in her triumphant laugh when Siegmund would take the sword. Here the production reinforces the relationship between the siblings with their names running up and down the trunk of the tree that appropriately dominates this part of the scene.

The opening of the second act is similarly effective in execution, with the more intensive use of projections underscoring the familiar music associated with the Valkyries. The use of mechanical lifts adds a touch, even though the supernumerary who operates the device is part of the shots in which Brünnhilde is usually seen alone. As Brünnhilde Jennifer Wilson captures the spirit of the role well and sings with ringing tone throughout the two acts in which she appears. Equally effective are Anna Larsson and Juha Uusitalo as Fricka and Wotan, the roles the performers had in this production of Das Rheingold and which they continue in this opera. Their interaction is equally comfortable, with Larsson offering persuasive performance that is audible in her singing and reinforced by her facial gestures and body language, elements captured well in this video. Uusitalo brings a welcome clarity to the sometimes lengthy passages assigned to Wotan, and he also reacts well to Fricka. The circular projections are nicely ambiguous to suggest the space in which the two interact while also connoting the ring at the center of this work. Such effects are used with direction, and they fade into the background where acting must dominate, as in the latter part of the act, when Wilson is alone on stage for Brünnhilde’s soliloquy.

Another touch is the reprise of the setting for the “Wintersturm” scene in which projections of snow replace the birds seen earlier and, thus, suggest the tragic outcome of the relationship between Siegmund and Sieglinde. Likewise, the setting for the confrontation between Hunding and Siegmund benefits from the aural space as Matti Salminen utters his lines offstage and suggests a sonic depth in the musical score. The slow-motion action in which Hunding kills Siegmund is almost cinematic, with the steel-grays and blues suffusing to the red that denotes the death of the hero and culminate in Uusitalo’s murder of Hunding with a single, well-articulated word. Here, too, the mobile-like objects suspended over the stage recall the human figures that formed the bridge to Valhalla at the end of Rheingold. This offers a sense of the concision which inspired this production.

For the famous “Ride of the Valkyries’ the pendulum full of bodies, presumably of the dead soldiers the Valkyries collect for Valhalla evokes the mythological elements of the story. Projections of battle scenes, stage smoke, and other elements are effect. This presentation surpasses the sometimes awkward modern stagings that sometimes use trampolines, conveyor belts, and other devices to less satisfactory effect. More than that, the women in this scene have a solid ensemble that makes the familiar music sound fresh and exciting. As earlier, the use of offstage sonorities adds a spatial dimension to the sound in this deservedly popular scene. This establishes a fine tone for the act, in which the special effects balance the outstanding musical execution, and the scene between Brünnhilde and Wotan deserve attention for its music elements, which the production reinforces.

Just as Uusitalo interacted well with Larsson, he is also acts well with Wilson as Brünnhilde, as his love and sense of duty emerge in the way he resolves his daughter’s fate. The two own the stage for the latter part of the act in a memorable presentation of the work. The image of the spinning world, like the one before the final tableau in Das Rheingold, recurs here, before Wotan condemns Brünnhilde to her human existence and sets into motion threads of the story that will be taken up in Siegfried. Here, as throughout the opera, Mehta offers an intensive reading of the score in which the orchestra blends with clarity and depth. The quieter moments remain full, and the iteration of various elements is never out of place. The brass never overbalance the strings, and the entire orchestral is heard to excellent effect in the concluding scene which depicts Brünnhilde’s well-known “magic sleep.” To the end Wilson and Uusitalo remain intense and tireless, with the final scene conveying a sense of tender that contributes to the overall effect of this well-thought production. The close-ups of the video certainly make this more than filmed opera; rather, this is a conception that delivers the work well in this filming.

As much as the famous Met Ring conducted by James Levine remains a solid contribution to the legacy of recordings of this cycle, the present one by Mehta is equally sound for its well-though presentation and fine performances. It is difficult to recommend one over the other. Rather, the two productions offer two fine productions of the work, and the differences between the two conceptions of Die Walküre should not be taken in opposition, but as parts of a spectrum from traditional to innovation, where both benefit from unstinting execution. The modern elements offered by La Fura dels Baus are effective because they work well within the text of the work, rather than by creating a subtext of its own, and those interested in Der Ring des Nibelungen will gain a fine sense of this production from this video of Die Walküre.

James L. Zychowicz

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