Sir Simon Rattle conducts a Siegfried in Munich full of new revelations

GermanyGermany Wagner, Siegfried: Soloists, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra / Sir Simon Rattle (conductor). Isarphilharmonie, Munich 5.2.2023. (ALL)

Sir Simon Rattle conducts the BRSO © Astrid Ackermann

Brünnhilde – Anja Kampe
Siegfried – Simon O’Neill
The Wanderer – Michael Volle
Fafner – Franz‑Josef Selig
Mime – Peter Hoare
Alberich – Georg Nigl
Erda – Gerhild Romberger
Woodbird – Danae Kontora

In 2016, Sir Simon Rattle and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra embarked on a new recording of Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle, releasing Das Rheingold in 2016 and Die Walküre in 2020. This evening was the next step in this project, showcasing the musical partnership that was yet to be fully realised. At the time, it was not known that Rattle would become the future music director of the ensemble, making this performance all the more intriguing as it offered a glimpse into what would eventually become a major musical partnership.

And what an orchestra this is! The strings were refined and solid, the brass section boasted a wide range of dynamics, and the woodwinds were poetic. The sound was impeccable and homogeneous, expertly crafted by Sir Simon Rattle. He showcased his mastery of orchestration and emphasised the Germanic sound of the orchestra even more than in his performances in Berlin. Rattle’s direction ensured a certain transparency and brought to light the intricate details that Wagner so carefully crafted. The musicians were fully focused and motivated throughout the long evening, delivering a performance nothing short of spectacular. Even for those who have heard the opera numerous times, the evening was full of new revelations.

The absence of a staging was noticeable at the start but the high musical standard quickly established an immersive atmosphere. Some of the singers, however, didn’t quite fit the conventional mold. Georg Nigl’s tone was a bit too light to fully capture the darkness of Alberich’s character. Gerhild Romberger’s performance was not up to her usual standards as Erda. Danae Kontora stepped in for an unwell Barbara Hannigan and delivered beautiful notes, but her rendition of the Woodbird could have benefited from a brighter upper register.

But Franz-Josef Selig was a somber Fafner whose final pages elicited much emotion. Peter Hoare, a former percussionist, showed his ability to sing while banging his hammer on an anvil. He was especially excellent in the second act. Anja Kampe is the Brünnhilde of the moment and was particularly radiant in the forte passages of her duet with Siegfried. The latter was sung by Simon O’Neill. This tenor from New Zealand was vocally a bit thin in the tremendous first act, but he had all the notes, his accuracy impeccable. As the evening progressed, he freed himself and conveyed the full measure of this demanding role in a superb final duet.

Michael Volle sings The Wanderer © Astrid Ackermann

But it was Michael Volle who impressed the most in the role of Wotan. His reading had authority, vocal power, and a capacity to express the text ever so strongly. The riddles with Mime were full of menace, while the confrontation with Siegfried in the third act mixed power and a certain tenderness – Hans Sachs is perhaps not so far away. Here is a simply masterful reading that will be a landmark. Thankfully, it has now been preserved.

This concert took place in Munich’s Isarphilharmonie, it is a cost-effective construction, reported at around 30 million euros. The hall can be a bit challenging to arrive at due to ongoing metro line renovations that are causing regular disruptions, with Sundays as no exception. The atmosphere of the building is a bit cold, but this is amply compensated for by its exceptional acoustics and wideness of dynamics. The sound was well-balanced, and several musicians have spoken of the advantage of being able to hear each other well. Sir Simon Rattle has expressed his desire for a new hall near the Ostbahnhof, although the latest update suggests that it may not be possible to secure funding for it, nor for the renovation of the old Gasteig. It could be that the conclusion of this Ring will be performed by the same artists in the Isarphilharmonie which may actually not be such a bad thing after all.

Antoine Lévy-Leboyer

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