A Generally Outstanding Die Walküre on the Second Day of Berlin’s Ring Cycle

GermanyGermany Wagner, Die Walküre: Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper / Donald Runnicles (conductor), Deutsche Oper, Berlin, 14.4.2017. (JMI)

Die Walküre © B. Stöss
Deutsche Oper’s Die Walküre © B Stöss

Brünnhilde – Evelyn Herlitzius
Wotan – Iain Paterson
Sieglinde – Eva-Maria Westbroek
Siegmund – Stuart Skelton
Fricka – Daniela Sindram
Hunding – Tobias Kehrer

Director – Götz Friedrich
Sets and Costumes – Peter Sykora

The Wagnerian Tetralogy continues in Berlin. Today’s Die Walküre was very satisfying: the staging was perhaps less spectacular than for Das Rheingold, but the musical direction was remarkable and there were some true stars in the cast.

Götz Friedrich’s production again offers the famous tunnel (which will be present for the entire Ring). In Act I the tunnel is cut with a solid wall so that the scene of Hunding’s house takes place at the very front of the stage. The décor is simple: chairs, a table and a big tree in the centre. The wall opens up with the arrival of spring, which reveals the rest of the tunnel, full of vegetation; through which the twins in love will escape.

The next two acts take place in the tunnel. In Act II there are a number of building models, worthy of Wotan’s megalomania; the stage works well for the confrontation of Wotan and Fricka and also for the scene of the god and his Valkyrie daughter, Brünnhilde. It’s the same setting in Act III, but the building models are eliminated. The Magic Fire is fine, surrounding the rock where Wotan places Brünnhilde. Here the Friedrich production is more conventional and doesn’t measure up to the Prologue of the Tetralogy. In any case, the plot is perfectly narrated and the direction of the actors is always effective.

Donald Runnicles was once again on the podium, and his reading was much better than on the previous day, truly worthy of this outstanding musical director. He was excellent in the first two acts, especially the Wotan Monologue and the ‘Announcement of the Death’ of Siegmund. His reading of Act III was less convincing and short on emotion. Even with some ups and downs, it was a superb Walküre, and the orchestra shone.

As far as the cast is concerned, there were some magnificent performances and some disappointments.

The titular role of the Valkyrie – giving the opera its title – Brünnhilde, was once again sung by Evelyn Herlitzius, who is usually a reliable performer. This was no exception: she was intense and blameless, effortlessly handled the famous ‘Hojotohos’, and was always convincing in her interpretation, although there are some small stridencies on the highest notes.

Staging the entire Ring over five days means that three different Wotans are required. Thomas J Mayer had been announced for the part in Die Walküre, but he cancelled in order to sing The Snow Maiden in Paris and was replaced by Iain Paterson. For me, this baritone does not have, and never had, the voice for Wotan. A year ago he did Wotan with Barenboim at the Staatsoper, and my opinion hasn’t changed: his voice lacks amplitude and falls short on the low notes, resulting in somewhat monotonous singing. In short, he’s a modest Wotan. I suppose it didn’t help that he sang the part of Kurwenal in Munich the day before.

Soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek gave life to Sieglinde and was exemplary from beginning to end. She’s a great singing-actor and very comfortable in the middle tessitura of Sieglinde – one of the best current interpreters of this character. I found her to be the best in the cast.

The other substitution came in the part of Siegmund. Tenor Brandon Jovanovich cancelled and was replaced by Stuart Skelton. I do not have the slightest doubt that we gained with the change, since nowadays Skelton is one of the best interpreters of Siegmund. But after a brilliant start, his ‘Wälse, Wälse’ were rather short, and he began to give unmistakable signs of not feeling well. He had troubles in the duet at the arrival of spring, although he managed to finish the act with bravura. In the second act things went better, helped no doubt by the less difficult tessitura.

Daniela Sindram repeated her performance of the previous day as Fricka and she did well, although vocally things were not as bright as in Rheingold.

Tobias Kehrer was excellent as Hunding. He has become irreplaceable at the Deutsche Oper, and I cannot help but be surprised that he didn’t sing Fasolt yesterday, and still more surprised by the fact that he will not be Hagen in Götterdämmerung.

The Valkyries were excellent, with a group of important voices that one doesn’t often find in other theatres. The presence of Martina Welschenbach as Helmwige, bright and powerful in her high Cs, was striking, as was that of Ronnita Miller as Grimgerde. Mezzo-soprano Michaela Selinger was a luxury as Waltraute, which I suppose she will repeat in Götterdämmerung. The other sisters were sung by Seyoung Park (Gerhilde), Sunyoung Seo (Ortlinde), Annika Schlicht (Siegrune), Christina Sidak (Rossweisse) and Rebecca Raffell (Schwerleite).

José M. Irurzun

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