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Performances

Christine Goerke [Photo courtesy of http://www.christinegoerke.com]
12 Dec 2016

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

Soloists help lift off clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

A review by Jenny Camilleri

Above: Christine Goerke [Photo courtesy of christinegoerke.com]

 

Presumably, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, foremost in the land and one of the best in the world, could not muster the budget for a complete Walküre — a worrisome fact, if this was indeed the case. Second, it would have cost nothing extra to include the names of the Valkyries next to the singers’ names in the programme, instead of just their voice type. On a more positive note, congratulations are in order to mezzo-soprano Alexandra Petersamer, who sang Rossweisse after having stepped in for an indisposed Petra Lang as Kundry in Act I of Parsifal at the Dutch National Opera. The original replacement, Elena Pankratova, whose flight had been delayed, sang the rest of the role.

Volle_Photographer_credit_-_Wilfried_Hsl.pngMichael Volle [Photo by Wilfried Hösl]

Petersamer and her lower-voiced sisters were fine assets in this flight of Valkyries. Among the sopranos, Allison Oakes as Gerhilde stood out with her large, prepossessing sound. Jumping immediately into Act III of Die Walküre means that we find ourselves in the midst of winged goddesses whooping in the air as they carry fallen warriors to Valhalla. Meanwhile, their sister Brünnhilde is carrying their human half-sister Sieglinde to safety, fleeing their father Wotan’s anger. Sieglinde is pregnant by Siegmund, her twin brother. Brünnhilde, ignoring Wotan’s orders, tried to save Siegmund’s life, but Wotan had him killed, punishing him for adultery and incest. Wotan must now also chastise Brünnhilde, his favourite, who carried out his true wish as a father, but must succumb to his will as chief god.

Conductor Valery Gergiev muted the first bars of the Ride of the Valkyries to create the illusion of distance, then suddenly they were upon us with a huge sound surge. Gergiev delivered in big moments such as this one, but did not maintain consistent tension throughout the performance. The exchange between the Valkyrie huntresses was flagging before Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde entered to charge it up. It is not uncommon in Wagner for the orchestra to steal the show, but this evening belonged to the soloists. There was nothing really amiss with Gergiev’s conducting, but neither was there much cause for elation. He seemed to be content to let the RCO produce beautiful sounds, which, of course, they did. The low woodwind solos keened gorgeously at Brünnhilde and Wotan’s farewell, and the Magic Fire Music glistened splendidly. Gergiev’s articulation, however, lacked psychological incisiveness. Wotan’s anger was stated rather than expressed, and the orchestra never reflected Brünnhilde’s terror of becoming mortal, locked in a deep sleep encircled by fire.

wilson1.pngTamara Wilson [Photo courtesy of Columbia Artists Management Inc.]

Happily, the three main soloists brought enough theatrical passion to make the performance take off. Soprano Tamara Wilson created a vulnerable, bruised Sieglinde, her opening phrases darkened with deepest grief. Lithe and shining, her voice then soared ecstatically in “O hehrstes Wunder!”. Wilson’s impressive brief appearance was a tantalizing glimpse into what she could do with the complete role. Her laser-like sound contrasted thrillingly with Goerke’s broad, complex soprano. Young and energetic, her Brünnhilde turned incredulously wide-eyed when pleading with Wotan in “War es so schmählich”. One really believed she was his somewhat spoiled favourite. Goerke’s unique instrument is dark and rich at the bottom and vastly opulent in the middle, tapering off into a focused top with a quick vibrato. It is a voice of many metals and minerals, and she wielded it expertly. The Amsterdam audience was lucky to get a slice of her Brünnhilde, as well as a taste of Michael Volle’s deluxe Wotan. With a baritone on the lighter side of the Wotan spectrum, Volle sang Brünnhilde to sleep in an impossibly tender, almost erotic, “Der Augen leuchtendes Paar”. At the other extreme, his seething rage while chasing his renegade daughter was tremendous. Volle’s clear German diction is pure bliss. Add to that a lustrous legato, natural theatrical instincts and a first-class instrument, and it is easy to see why he is one of the best operatic interpreters of our time.

Innovation in the concert hall is most welcome, but illustrator Tjarko van der Pol’s repetitious animation added little at best. At worst, it was a maddening distraction. Animated on a loop, drawings of the characters appeared each time they sang — a superfluous labelling exercise. The Valkyries were shields with facial features, gyrating rotors and limbs swinging back and forth. Sieglinde was a Venus of Willendorf with a clock face, and Wotan had a giant eye for a head, stuck on a tree trunk neck. These designs would look great on T-shirts and other Ring Cycle merchandise, but their spare, quasi-naïf style was totally incongruous with Wagner’s elaborate sonic world.

Jenny Camilleri


Cast and production information:

Brünnhilde: Christine Goerke (soprano); Wotan: Michael Volle (baritone); Sieglinde: Tamara Wilson (soprano); Valkyries: Christiane Kohl (soprano), Allison Oakes (soprano), Dara Hobbs (soprano), Stephanie Houtzeel (mezzo-soprano), Julia Rutigliano (mezzo-soprano), Alexandra Petersamer (mezzo-soprano), Simone Schröder (alto), Nadine Weissmann (alto); Tjarko van der Pol, animation. Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Conductor: Valery Gergiev. Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Friday, 9th December 2016.

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