Thursday, 25 February 2016

Richard Wagner, Die Walküre - Semperoper Dresden

Performance 23rd February

Dresden always had a close connection with Wagner. Not online did he himself work at the house, also several works composed by him premiered here. He called the orchestra his "Wunderharfe" (miraculous harp) and the orchestra has a long history of Wagner performance. If now the current chief conductor (or Kapellmeister) Christian Thielemann leads one of his operas the audience comes to Dresden from far and wide. From the four Ring operas Walküre has always been the most popular one due to its famous tunes, its highly authentic characters and of course its magnificent music. The difficulties of the piece are to have a proper production (which of course is important for any other opera as well) and a cast that is able to not only sing but also act the roles appropriately.
The Dresden production (which premiered in 2001) was directed by Willy Decker who was also responsible for the legendary La traviata production in Salzburg 2005. Optically the production is very appealing with big impressive stage sets and nice costumes (staging: Wolfgang Gussmann, costumes: Wolfgang Gussmann & Frauke Schernau). Especially the second act looked marvelously with the white miniature buildings and figures, not to mention the really elegant costume of Fricka. Unfortunately the management of the characters sometimes really did not seem authentic and overacted. Many movements just looked mannered and not really convincing. Nevertheless the whole look of the production excused that.
Of course the main interest of the evening was the musical part anyway. Christian Thielemann, currently probably the most dedicated conductor for Wagner, did not fail to satisfy with a highly passionate and clean interpretation with a masterfully focus on the thematic diversity of the score. The dynamic range between chamber music-like parts and massive outbreaks was really impressive and also the elegant way how he supported the singers throughout the whole evening showed his high professionalism. His orchestra, the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, also did a good job following his instructions and especially the string section sounded incredibly bright and clear. Only some minor issues in the brass section leave some room for improvement, especially during calm passages.
The range of the soloists also reached from only satisfying to exceptional. The valkyries (Christiane Kohl, Sonja Mühleck, Irmgard Vilsmaier, Christina Bock, Julia Rutigliano, Simone Schröder, Constance Heller and Nadine Weissmann) were not really a homogenous group. Some voices were just not powerful enough while others definitely had enough power to sing over the heavy orchestration of the first scene of the third act.
Very solid on the other hand was Georg Zeppenfeld as Hunding. His dark sonorous bass voice has quite some power but is always controlled and flexible. He seemed to have internalised this role perfectly and it earned him much applause.
A highlight for me was Christa Mayer as Fricka. Both, her acting and her singing culminated in a performance that was pretty close to perfect. She portrayed the nagging wife of Wotan with a strong mezzo voice that has a very warm timbre.
Petra Lang as Sieglinde unfortunately did not really convince me in this role. Interestingly it was neither good nor bad. Of course Sieglinde is appealing for high mezzos but Lang does just not have the right voice for it. Her timbre is not youthful enough and tends to be edgy with quite strong portamenti. As I said she managed the part but did not really convince except with her immense power and the clarity of her high notes.
Her brother and lover Siegmund was sung by Christopher Ventris who does have a very good voice for this role. His timbre is not only heroic but also has a very youthful component. His phrasing is very lyric but does also show a very powerful instrument that can compete with the orchestra.
Markus Marquardt sang the role of Wotan very well with a really smart and sophisticated interpretation. He used the full power of his voice only for a few selected moments while most of his part was sung very intimately and lyrically. Especially during the climatic third act he changed between dramatic outbursts and very soft passages.
However, the vocal highlight of the evening was Nina Stemme in the title role of Brünnhilde. Stemme is one of those singers who sound way better in a real performance. The immense power of her voice is joined by a great ability to keep the voice very lyrical and soft. Of course the important outbursts were great but also the soft and intimate parts sounded magnificently. Moreover I got the impression that she really internalised this role because her acting was really convincing and showed her intensive understanding of the character. She proved that she really is one of the leading singers for this repertoire.
The whole performance was a huge success even though some parts still leave room for improvement. Nevertheless I would say that it was definitely a top performance compared to other current productions and the great international interest proved that beyond doubt. I would give 8 stars out of ten to this performance and I am looking forward to see the other parts of the Ring here under the baton of Christian Thielemann.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

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