I love all four operas of the Ring Cycle, Siegfried is perhaps my personal favourite but Die Walkure is perhaps the most accessible of the four and has my favourite scene of the entire cycle in Wotan's Farewell, narrowly edging out the Quintet from Meistersinger and Die Frist Ist Um from Hollander as my favourite scene from Wagner's operas. Is this Die Walkure the best one I've seen? No, there is strong competition in the 1990 Met, the 1992 Bayreuth and 1980 Boulez-conducted performances. However it is a worthy one, very exciting and even better than the flawed but promising Das Rheingold(great singing especially from Uusitalo, Kappelmann, Larsson and Salminen, but with a couple of clumsy staging moments like the killing of Fasolt and some ropey special effects like the frog).
This Die Walkure is not quite perfect. I did like the idea of the crane-machines, and there are scenes where they worked such as surprisingly the thrilling but potentially claustrophobic Ride of the Valkyries scene. However there are other scenes where they came across as distracting and somewhat unnecessary. The costumes are interesting, with Hunding's make-up and such faring best, but the unflattering brown costumes of the Walkure, Brunnhilde's breastplates and Sieglinde's dreadlocks take some getting used to. The scene where Brunnhilde tells Siegmund he must die is one of the opera's highlights, but while competently performed by all the scene just lacked the mystery and intense drama that was provided under Bareboim and Boulez.
On the other hand, the filmic projections are very technical and interesting, always sharp and colourful and helps for each scene to flow from the next without any glitches. The galactic backgrounds seen during the scene between Wotan and Fricka in Act 2 and the reminiscing-like projections in Wotan's Monologue were of note here. Of the staging, the magic fire scene doesn't lose its emotional impact and I was really taken with how Wotan and Fricka's scenes were directed, like Wotan floating above Fricka as she tells him he's best off trampling her and Fricka rising and Wotan remaining grounded after she has forced him to her will. The stage effects are much more consistent this time around, none are thankfully distractingly bad like the frog in Das Rheingold was. The picture and sound quality are well done, though the video direction relies too much on close-ups and cutting back what felt like every three seconds.
From a musical point of view, there is little to fault really. The lush, powerful orchestral playing is still there, never letting go even until the final chord. Wotan's Farewell is especially brilliant, having the monumental sensation it should do. Zubin Mehta's conducting while occasionally lacking a mysterious approach is otherwise warm and authoritative, flowing much more effectively than it did in Das Rheingold and even then it was generally solid. The singing is great on the whole, with the only real weak link being the Sieglinde of Petra Maria Schnitzer, vocally she is fine but even in her monologue she lacks intensity and radiance.
Peter Seiffert's Siegmund fares much better though. His voice does show signs of a wobble, but it is still a strong sound and musically used. His acting is heroic and sensitive. Juha Uusitalo is never going to be one of my favourite Wotans but he is still very good in the role, outstanding actually in his Act 2 monologue. He is firm and eloquent, although I would have preferred a more authoritative voice(Uusitalo only just about makes it to the climatic phrase of the Farewell/Magic Fire scene) he does show great artistry. Jennifer Wilson is a Brunnhilde of great command, with spot on high Cs to boot.
There were two performances particular of note, Anna Larsson and Matti Salminen. I don't think I have seen a more convincing Fricka on stage or DVD, not even the vocally thrillingly-coloured performance of Stephanie Blythe in the 2011 Met HD production. Larsson's Fricka is much more than a shrewish wife, she is a superb actress(helped by the fact her scenes with Wotan are the best of the production here) and the singing is firm and like Uusitalo used with great artistry. Salminen's Hunding under Boulez is the best on DVD in my view, and in a dark and very unyielding characterisation(only slightly let down by some occasional vocal coarseness, though mostly it is rich and firm) he comes that close to matching that performance.
All in all, very exciting with some interesting ideas and great singing. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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