The New York Times, May 3, 2013
Wagner: ‘Die Walküre’
Some Wagner devotees have likened the “Ring” cycle to an epic, four-movement operatic symphony, with “Die Walküre” as its great slow movement. I mean it as high praise when I say that the work comes across this way in the conductor Valery Gergiev’s recording with a superb cast and the Mariinsky Orchestra. Not that the tempos are slower than usual, though some are. But Mr. Gergiev conveys the depth, breadth and weightiness of this masterpiece.

The opera has episodes of fiery drama and strokes of theatrical flair, like the “Ride of the Valkyries.” But mostly we encounter godly characters in uncertain states, grappling with a mysterious family drama.

In Act I, drawing out dark orchestral sound and mellow string tone, Mr. Gergiev uncovers the subdued yearning and bafflement between Sieglinde and Siegmund, the twins separated in early childhood. He has ideal singers for the roles: the magnificent tenor Jonas Kaufmann, an earnest, suffering yet heroic Siegmund, and the gleaming soprano Anja Kampe, a poignantly expressive Sieglinde.

When Hunding (Mikhail Petrenko), Sieglinde’s bullying husband, returns home to find his wife with this young stranger, the orchestra plays Hunding’s well-known motif: a gruff, imposing fanfare. But in the subdued, calculating way Mr. Gergiev conducts it, the motif seems not a signal to listeners of Hunding’s arrival but a reflection of the character’s thoughts, as the suspicious Hunding wonders what is going on. The entire performance is filled with similarly fresh interpretive choices.

The soprano Nina Stemme, the reigning Brünnhilde of the day, sings with lustrous sound and exciting intensity. The great bass René Pape, in commanding voice, is an impulsive and, by the end, chastened Wotan. Ekaterina Gubanova is an earthy Fricka. And for once, the “Ride of the Valkyries” sounds like a stirring ride, not a frantic race.

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