Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Richard Wagner, Der Ring des Nibelungen - Die Walküre - Festspielhaus Baden-Baden

Concert performance 10th July

For over a year now I had a ticket for the Walküre performance in Baden-Baden in which Jonas Kaufmann would have made his European debut as Siegmund. After already cancelling the first performance some days before he also had to cancel the second performance due to illness. The Festspielhaus managed to find appropriate replacement even though people were still disappointed that Kaufmann did not sing.
The performance led by Russian conductor Valery Gergiev and his Mariinsky Orchestra. While looking totally ridiculous he seems to have full control over the orchestra with an exceptional accuracy. Every chord was so accurate and balanced that the whole performance was simply ravishing. Especially the string section sounded really brilliantly with a very beautiful warm and balanced sound.
Of the Russian Valkyries some were really good and others not, but alltogether it was a solid performance of the 8 ladies. I especially want to pinpoint Oxana Shilova's Helmwige because of the exceptional Hojotoho shouts (rumour has it that all Brünnhildes once started out as Helmwige), but also the others were solid (Zhanna Dombrovskaya, Irina Vasilieva, Natalia Yevstafieva, Ekaterina Krapivina, Varvara Solovyova, Anna Kiknadze & Evelina Agabalaeva).
Mikhail Petrenko as Hunding was not really convincing due to the fact that he lacked the dark timbre of the role and also his diction was a bit too Russian. His performance was solid, but not really on the same level as the other performers.
Ekaterina Gubanova was an exceptional Fricka with such an elegant voice and such clear diction that it was a pity that she did not have a other scene. Her attractive sonorous mezzo voice which is also able to have that authorious intonation was perfect for this role and I enjoyed it very much.
Sieglinde was sung by Eva-Maria Westbroek who already is a veteran in this role. Her voice gained some weight over the years but also lost a bit of warmth. Now her voice sounds a bit more steely which is maybe a result of her Isolde. Still she is one of the leading Sieglindes of our times and sang the role with a very beautiful voice and a thrilling presentation.
Jumping in for Kaufmann Andreas Schager already had a difficult job pleasing the audience. After his performance in that role in Leipzig I was a bit prejudiced. Admittedly he did much better than in Leipzig, but he still seemed not to really know the role well enough. While definitely having the voice for it he just does not really show great understanding of the role and had too many rhythmical and textual issues. I hope that he will take his time to learn the role approriately soon because it would be a pity to leave his potential unused.
The undoubted highlight of the evening was René Pape as Wotan with a performance that earns the attribute legendary. Barely singing full performances of the role he was simply exceptional. His powerful sonorous bass voice has enough extension in the upper register to manage the high parts of the role without any problems and his lower register is simply perfect. His performance convinces with authority, a great interpretation and a voice that seems to be made to sing Wagner.
The titlerole was sung by Evelyn Herlitzius who also did a very good job this evening. While still not being able to sing appropriate Hojotoho shouts (but seriously, who is?) she was really great during the rest of her part. Of course her voice is not attractive and sometimes still crumbly, but as I experienced in her Ortrud performances during the last months her voice seems in better shape than during the last years. especially during the second act I was really impressed by her presentation and I have to say she gave a wonderful performance.
Alltogether it was still a very high level performance even without Kaufmann and it was definitely worth making the journey to Baden-Baden. Therefor I would give 9 stars to the performance and hope that Kaufmann will sing Siegmund somewhere else soon.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

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