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Performances

A scene from Die Walküre [Photo courtesy of Paris Opéra]
05 Apr 2013

Die Walküre, Paris

The Paris Opéra has not staged a full Ring Cycle since 1957, but its current season will conclude with a correction of this grand operatic gap.

Die Walküre, Paris

A review by Paul du Quenoy

Above: A scene from Die Walküre [Photo courtesy of Paris Opéra]

 

Full cycles are unfolding in monthly installments this spring, and there will be one complete, composite cycle in June. Each of the four operas that comprise the Ring premiered in previous seasons, beginning with Das Rheingold in March 2010. Die Walküre, which opened in May 2010, is now revisited, starring some of the principals who will take the role in the summer.

Günter Krämer’s productions have been criticized both for being too dark and for excessive whimsy. To cite a few of their more bizarre affectations in his Paris Ring, the giants in Das Rheingold lead a revolt of aggrieved union workers carrying red flags. Mime in Siegfried is a 1950s beatnik who grows a marijuana lab. The musical postlude to the Immolation Scene in Götterdämmerung is accompanied by a video game-style projection of a burning Valhalla, in which a laser gun icon blows away Valkyries. Walküre is not immune to these problems. For much of the performance the stage is barely illuminated against a dark background. In some scenes the set is dominated by a steeply ascending metallic staircase that resembles athletic bleachers. The Act I prelude shows a group of nude actors being chased up the stairs and then slaughtered by warriors with swords. Wotan’s vicissitudes in Act II are highlighted by giant letters spelling “Germania,” the old Roman designation for Wagner’s country and the putative name for a new Nazi German capital to be designed by Hitler’s top architect Albert Speer. When Wotan really gets upset, he knocks down the first three letters, rather obviously leaving the rest to spell “mania.” In Act III the Valkyries are tough nurses who revive their fallen heroes and refit them as soldiers.

It is always possible for a fine musical performance to take us beyond a fractured production concept. There were hints of that here. Stuart Skelton well deserves his frequent Heldentenor casting. His Siegmund was a skilled and clarion vocal performance. It was only disappointing to see how little it was reflected in his dramatic abilities, which left this dynamic character wooden. Günther Groissböck’s menacing Hunding revealed a strong, stentorian bass and a refreshingly powerful characterization. The fine baritone of Thomas Johannes Mayer rests a bit too high for this incarnation of Wotan (he is more successful in the Rheingold version) but still delivered with the necessary authority. Martina Serafin’s passionate and strident Sieglinde showed off this rising star’s accomplishments. And the grand mezzo Sophie Koch sang a poignant and convincing Fricka; she steadfastly avoided the easy temptation to reduce the role to a shrill hag. The weakest link was the production’s Brünnhilde, sung by Welsh soprano Alwyn Mellor. At times it was hard to hear her over the orchestra, but a general tonic pallor led one to wonder if Wagner is truly for her.

Paris’s young music director Philippe Jordan brings a crisp approach to Wagner that is often lighter than what one usually hears. Acts I and III featured some truly exhilarating orchestral playing. Inexplicably, however, Act II seemed to drag at an extremely slow pace that lost or passed over the tension of its most dramatic moments. The enjoyable acts that bracketed it should have set a more consistent tone.

Paul du Quenoy

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