Wagner: Die Walküre

Robert Levine
Classics Today (US)

Artistic Quality 9/10
Sound Quality 10/10

The first impressive thing you note about this truly extraordinary Walküre is the playing of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. With a recording that is as technically superb as this one—and taken from a live performance at that—we are able to hear much of the score close-up, and this performance has some of the most remarkable playing I’ve ever heard. At the opera’s start, the low strings are vicious and relentless. In the Wotan / Brünnhilde scene in the second act they play with great warmth while the soft brass seem gentle, sad, and understanding (if I may anthropomorphize for a moment) when they’re supposed to, and can nearly overwhelm with their power at other moments. The woodwinds play clearly and cleanly throughout. Conductor Asher Fisch must get the credit for this, I presume, as he expertly manages the orchestra’s general phrasing and the tension with which scenes mount. Like Karajan, he sees the private moments of the opera in a chamber-music light, but his tempos are quicker.

The first act [is] handsomely sung by tenor Stuart Skelton, soprano Deborah Riedel, and bass Richard Green … and the last 40 minutes of the second act are nearly overwhelming. Skelton is the real thing—a heldentenor with a baritonal lower tinge that brightens as it rises, and stunning breath control (his cries of “Wälse!” seem to go on forever). His graduation to Siegfried, should he decide on it, will be an event. Riedel’s Sieglinde is girlish but vibrant, and she has the power to pull out the stops in the last act.

John Bröcheler as Wotan … soon settles into one of the most compelling readings of the role in modern times. He holds nothing back, and if the tone is sometimes raw and is rarely luxurious, well, so be it—he gets to the character’s core. His anger in Act 3, perhaps because of the rapid tempos at which he must hurl this rage, is the most frighteningly furious I have ever heard, and his soft singing near the opera’s close is the work of a master.

[Lisa Gasteen’s] … performance is “magnificent”. Her voice is warm and perfectly focused, with plenty of body in the all-important middle range, and her attention to the text (and flawless diction and rhythm) make her every utterance seem absolutely natural. She and Wotan present us with an intimate and sad family situation that is heartbreaking in its honesty. The Valkyries are a fine bunch, and their various placements around the stage lend their scene a real vitality.
I guess that given the profusion of Walküres on the market going back 50 years, with their contributions from individual singers such as Varnay, Nilsson, Hotter, Vickers, et al., not to mention conductors like Böhm, Karajan, Furtwängler, Krauss, and Solti, will not allow for a favourite. But this new set is marvellous in many ways and deserves to be heard.


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