Madrid’s Ring cycle continues with a satisfying Die Walküre

15/02/2020

SpainSpain Wagner, Die Walküre: Teatro Real Orchestra / Pablo Heras-Casado (conductor), Teatro Real, Madrid, 12 & 14. 2. 2020. (JMI)

Die Walkűre (‘Magic Fire’ scene, first cast) © Javier del Real

Production:

Direction – Robert Carsen
Sets and Costumes – Patrick Kinmonth
Lighting – Manfred Voss

Cast:

Brünnhilde – Ricarda Merbeth / Ingela Brimberg
Wotan – Tomasz Konieczny / James Rutherford
Sieglinde – Adrianne Pieczonka / Elisabet Strid
Siegmund – Stuart Skelton / Christopher Ventris
Fricka – Daniela Sindram
Hunding – René Pape / Ain Anger
Gerhilde – Julie Davies
Helmwige – Daniela Köhler
Waltraute – Sandra Ferrández
Schwertleite – Bernadett Fodor
Ortlinde – Samantha Crawford
Siegrune – Heike Grötzinger
Grimgerde – Marifé Nogales
Rossweisse – Rosie Aldridge

Madrid’s Ring cycle, which began last year with a successful Das Rheingold, is continuing at the rate of one opera per season. The second production, Die Walküre, was generally a convincing one, particularly in musical terms.

Pablo Heras-Casado gave a superb reading of the opera, and the Teatro Real orchestra once again demonstrated their unquestionable talent. Although there were both ups and downs, the ups predominated. The best parts came in Act II and in the third act following the famous ‘Ride of the Valkyries’. I missed more dramatic strength in Act I, but the conducting of the second act was excellent, especially the Todesverkündigung (‘Annunciation of Death’) scene. The ‘Ride’ seemed excessively loud, but the emotion was strong in the second part of the third act, both in the duet of Wotan and Brünnhilde and in the always awaited ‘Magic Fire’.

The stage production by Robert Carsen premiered in 2000 and could be seen at the Liceu in 2014. I reviewed it at that time, and my opinion is basically unchanged (review click here).

In the first cast, Brünnhilde was performed by Ricarda Merbeth, an excellent soprano who has shone in characters like Elsa or Chrysothemis. I was struck by her jump to the more dramatic characters, such as Elektra or Brünnhilde herself. If I am not mistaken, it is her debut in the character in Die Walküre; until now she had only sung the role in Siegfried, which is the most lyrical of the three Brünnhildes. Her voice occasionally fell somewhat short on power, which was evident throughout the second act after her brilliant ‘Hojotohos’; the best part of her performance was in the beautiful duet with Wotan in Act III.

In the second cast, soprano Ingela Brimberg had an appealing voice but it is not what one would call a dramatic soprano, which is what this character requires. The most convincing part of her performance came in Act III, where she sang with gusto and expressiveness. She too did nicely with the ‘Hojotohos’, although there is a certain vibrato at the top.

Wotan was played by baritone Tomasz Konieczny in the first cast. He has been a prominent interpreter of the character in recent years at the Staatsoper in Vienna, where he will sing the role again next month. An outstanding singer and performer, he was more convincing than Greer Grimsley’s Wotan last year in Das Rheingold. James Rutherford in the second cast was less impressive in vocal terms. His voice has a certain appeal, but he had some serious projection problems: his voice was one of those that remain on stage, and was inaudible on more than one occasion.

Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka gave a good performance as Sieglinde. She does not frequently sing this role, although it has been more than 13 years since she first sang it in Bayreuth. Her voice is suited to the character, and she was a fine interpreter. Elisabet Strid was a bit light for the character. Her voice is attractive, but she falls short in the lower notes. This is a role that demands an important middle range and a lower one as well.

Stuart Skelton was an impressive Siegmund. He is undoubtedly one of the outstanding performers of the character today, with a voice that suits the role. His ‘Wälse! Wälse!’ were remarkable. Christopher Ventris in the second cast showed signs of fatigue as the performance progressed, and his ‘Wälse! Wälse!’ fell short.

René Pape, perhaps currently the leading bass in Wagner operas, had not sung at Teatro Real for 12 years. It was delightful to once again hear his magnificent voice and to share in his accomplished performance as Hunding. There was also a strong performance by Ain Anger who, I thought, was the best in the alternative cast.

Daniela Sindram was good as Fricka, as were the Valkyries, especially Daniela Köhler and Rosie Aldridge.

José M. Irurzun

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