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Performances

Brünnhilde on the mountainside [Source: Wikipedia]
03 Nov 2019

Van Zweden conducts an unforgettable Walküre at the Concertgebouw

When native son Jaap van Zweden conducts in Amsterdam the house sells out in advance and expectations are high. Last Saturday, he returned to conduct another Wagner opera in the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series. The Concertgebouw audience was already cheering the maestro loudly before anyone had played a single note. By the end of this concert version of Die Walküre, the promise implicit in the enthusiastic greeting had been fulfilled. This second installment of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung was truly memorable, and not just because of Van Zweden’s imprint.

Van Zweden conducts an unforgettable Walküre at the Concertgebouw

A review by Jenny Camilleri

Above: Brünnhilde on the mountainside [Source: Wikipedia]

 

Seeing Van Zweden conduct translates directly into what you hear – an energetic gracefulness guided by mathematical discipline. The lasting impression left by this Walküre, however, was one of predominant lyricism. With sonorous beauty a paramount goal, the performance peaked during its romantic and melancholy passages. But even in the opening storm and the motifs associated with the various villains of the Ring, Van Zweden and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, who should be proud as peacocks of the musical heights they scaled, seemed incapable of producing a harsh sound. There was also plenty of dramatic excitement, as in the turbulent prelude to Act 2 and the beginning of Act 3, when Van Zweden marshaled a cracking squadron of soaring Valkyries. But even when he turned up the decibels for Wotan’s rage, the orchestra never lost its prismatic brilliance. Naturally, Van Zweden must share the credit with the musicians – the amber strings, a stalwart brass section, the six sparkling harps in the Magic Fire Music, and the various exquisite solos. Whether taking center stage or elucidating the sung narratives, so discerningly shaped by its erstwhile chief conductor, the Netherlands Radio Phil was in excellent form.

All this and we’ve barely mentioned the cast, who made this event truly special. The fateful reunion of Wotan’s human twin children, separated in childhood, could hardly have been sung better. Stuart Skelton’s finely drawn Siegmund was its emotional center. He not only thrilled with column-rattling heroic crescendos, but his pliable tenor also conveyed a degree of dramatic nuance that was almost filmic. Evidently, Skelton has lived with and loved this character for a while and knows every fracture of his broken heart. Van Zweden was happy to follow him during Siegmund’s narration of his wretched life story, which made for some gripping storytelling. The tension was also sliceable when Skelton and Ain Anger as Hunding stared each other down after their confrontation. Anger’s Hunding was genuinely terrifying, his deep, rumbling bass exuding malevolence and fascination in equal measure. And the Sieglinde they fought over was particularly alluring, possessing the golden voice of Elena Pankratova. Although she did not exactly delve deep into the psyche of the traumatized orphan and purchased bride, Pankratova was vocally aglow. Her refulgent singing reached its zenith in Act 3, in Sieglinde’s short but intense appearance as she is galvanized out of her suicidal mourning for Siegmund by the news that she is expecting his child.

The singing gods gave the mortals a run for their money. Ronnita Miller was a quality Fricka, her mezzo-soprano aristocratic and polished. She was a wounded, betrayed wife rather than a furious moral crusader, appealing to Wotan’s compassion as well as his sense of righteousness. Thomas Johannes Mayer, an experienced Wotan, gave a complex, textually commanding portrayal of the conflicted god. Vocally, his Wotan, more lyrical than heroic, is not of the armored tank variety. At times his vocal reserves seemed to be running low, but each time he quickly managed to replenish them. The vividness of his acting constantly drew you in, not least in his tortured monologue to Brünnhilde, pivotal to understanding the power struggles and emotional forces at work in the whole of the Ring. Soprano Katherine Broderick, taking on the Walküre Brünnhilde for the first time, made a wonderful role debut. Her round, bright timbre suited the rebellious, clever young daughter. She positively reveled in the Valkyrie cries (with trills!), and her voice also retained its brightness, without losing any richness, in the low-lying Annunciation of Death. This was a beautifully sung, passionate assumption of the role, already emotionally mature in the final scene, when Brünnhilde incredulously hears that Wotan will punish her by divesting her of her immortality. Broderick’s heart-rending pleading for the mitigation of her terrible sentence was just one of this indelible performance’s extra special moments.

Jenny Camilleri


Richard Wagner: Die Walküre

Katherine Broderick (soprano), Brünnhilde; Thomas Johannes Mayer (baritone), Wotan; Elena Pankratova (soprano), Sieglinde; Stuart Skelton (tenor), Siegmund; Ronnita Miller (mezzo-soprano), Fricka; Ain Anger (bass), Hunding ; Sonja Šarić (soprano), Gerhilde; Lisette Bolle (soprano), Helmwige; Brit-Tone Müllertz (soprano), Ortlinde; Esther Kuiper (mezzo-soprano), Waltraute; Ursula Hesse von den Steinen (mezzo-soprano), Siegrune; Katrin Wundsam (mezzo-soprano), Grimgerde; Roswitha Christina Müller (mezzo-soprano), Rossweisse; Henriette Gödde (mezzo-soprano), Schwertleite. Jaap van Zweden, Conductor . Netherlands Radio Philharmonic. Heard at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, on Saturday, the 2nd of November, 2019.

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