International Record Review, March 2013
Wagner - Die Walküre
Gergiev, artistic director of the Mariinsky Theatre, has apparently
concluded that, in documenting his company's Walküre, international
Wagnerian stars would be required for the leading roles. Only the
supporting parts — Hunding, Fricka and the Valkyries — are filled here by
This show belongs to Jonas Kaufmann (Siegmund), whose
bronzed timbre is deeply satisfying whether in heroic or intimate utterance.
His legato is immaculate, with many phrases taken in a single span where
other tenors would be grabbing extra breaths. When genuine forcefulness is
crucial, as at the end of Act 1, Kaufmann sings as thrillingly as any
Siegmund since Jon Vickers, yet his poetic qualities are also on a par with
those of his great Canadian predecessor's level (as in a flawless
'Winterstürme'). Kaufmann's singing in the 'Todesverkündigung' is
nobly phrased as one could desire. His expertise as a Lieder singer tells in
his detailed expressiveness throughout this portrayal, limning a thoroughly
persuasive portrait of the resolute, courageous, deeply sensitive Wälsung.
Here is surely the most moving and beautifully sung Siegmund on disc since
Vickers's 1961 performance under Leinsdorf.
Anja Kampe, is frustrating. The voice boasts an exceptionally rich-toned
bottom octave, but a serious loss of colour on top gives constant cause for
worry. Kampe's vocal acting gives us an unfailingly sincere Sieglinde, if
not an especially individual one. Partnering the soprano and tenor in Act 1
is the Hunding of Mikhail Petrenko, satisfactory but rather young-sounding
in this forbidding role and somewhat grainy of voice.
(Wotan) is, of course, a bass, and he doesn't sail into the easy upper
extension boasted by bass-baritones George London and Hans Hotter in their
prime. Most of the big-scale top notes (beginning in his very first speech
with the leap to high F sharp on 'reite zur Wal') are effortfully produced.
Pape's ease at the bottom generally compensates, and there are numerous
inward-looking moments that impress: much of the monologue (exceedingly
intelligently presented overall) and certainly 'küßt er die Gottheit von
dir', with Wagner's ppp marking memorably observed. The god's tenderness is
perceptible, and one clearly senses his pain in the final dialogue with his
daughter. I do miss the sheer majesty of Wotan — Pape's is a comparatively
lightweight instrument for this music —but at 'In festen Schlaf' and,
indeed, in all the quieter portions of the role, one does hear the singer at
Brünnhilde is the vocally fearless Nina Stemme, who has
even the trills of 'Hojotoho!' in hand. She and Kampe — each an utterly
direct, unfailingly sympathetic vocal personality — also share an
extraordinary darkness of tone (contraltos would kill for the luscious
richness of Stemme's lower register in 'War es so schmählich'). Unlike her
colleague, Stemme can navigate
above the stave with no sacrifice in
tonal body. Some excess vibrato (the only passing weakness in Stemme's
technique) can intrude, and the very thickness of the sound impedes clear
enunciation here and there. Still, one should be exceedingly grateful
for the Swedish soprano's terrific confidence and consistent beauty of
voice. She saves the best for last —the
character's final speech is
truly heroic and deeply stirring.
Ekaterina Gubanova brings luscious,
Ludwig-like vocal velvet to Fricka, presenting a notably dignified and
womanly goddess, eschewing both ranting and shrewishness. She sings rather
better German than her compatriots heard as the Valkyries, who manage to
fill the bill vocally in their ensembles. Individually strongest of the
sopranos is Irina Vasilieva's Ortlinde, and Ekaterina Sergeeva's Siegrune
does best among the mezzos (although she errs in her text, singing 'Hort'
instead of 'Hort').
Technically the Mariinsky orchestral players have
no problems at all, and Gergiev's great achievement is to draw consistently
lovely tone from them through the entire performance. One can't deny the
pleasure derived from such well-shaped playing, but Act 1 and much of Act 2
sounds like a read-through. In the prelude one longs for the bite and slash
in the strings that
makes Keilberth at Bayreuth so memorable. Repeatedly
in Act 1 specificity of expression is minimal, with Gergiev seeming oddly
distanced from the piece (it's the singers exclusively, not the conductor,
who supply the passion here).
In Act 2 the Fricka scene inspires
little excitement from the pit. More effective (if not quite offering the
magnificence one hopes for in this passage) is the interlude before the
Wälsungs' entrance, and Gergiev does collaborate satisfactorily with Kampe
in Sieglinde's hallucination scene. The 'Todesverkündingung' also goes quite
well musically and dramatically, seemingly catching Gergiev's imagination
more than what we've heard so far.
The orchestra's virtuosity is
rewarding in the 'Walkürenritt' and as Act 3 proceeds we finally feel
Gergiev consistently connecting with the drama. Unlike many conductors these
rush insensitively through Brünnhilde's glorious 'Fort den
eile', Gergiev allows Stemme to phrase this passage with sufficient breadth.
The conductor offers both his Brünnhilde and Wotan
good support in their
final confrontation. Gergiev loses the excitement to a degree in the opening
portion of the 'Abschied'. The interlude before 'Der Augen leuchtendes Paar'
is strong, not so the 'Feuerzauber'.
The recorded sound is excellent.
Mariinsky's booklet contains the libretto, translation, biographies, a
few paragraphs on Wagner's life and a brief but splendid introduction to the
opera itself. Ring enthusiasts will want to hear Pape, Stemme and especially
Kaufmann, but —despite the large number of new Walküre recordings to have
entered the catalogue in the past decade — my top choices remain the
Bayreuth performances led by Bohm (1967) and Keilberth (1955).