Die Walküre [First Day of Der Ring des Nibelungen; music drama in three acts; sung in German]
Siegmund – Stig Andersen
Sieglinde – Yvonne Howard
Hunding – Clive Bayley
Wotan – Egils Silins
Brünnhilde – Susan Bullock
Fricka – Susan Bickley
Gerhilde – Miranda Keys
Ortlinde – Elaine McKrill
Waltraute – Sarah Castle
Schwertleite – Linda Finnie
Helmwige – Katherine Broderick
Siegrune – Alison Kettlewell
Grimgerde – Ceri Williams
Rossweisse – Leah Marian Jones
Sir Mark Elder
Recorded 15 & 16 July 2011 in Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, and in rehearsal
CD No: HALLÉ CD HLD 7531 (4 CDs + 1 for documentation) Duration: 4 hours 8 minutes Reviewed: September 2012
Mark Elder conducts Wagner’s Die Walküre – Andersen, Howard, Bullock & Silins [Hallé]
Reviewed by Mark Valencia
The concert hall is fast becoming the medium of choice for operatic recording. It’s easy to see why: the frisson of live performance is safeguarded, yet the pitfalls – not least ‘noises off’ – of a busy stage are largely avoided. Die Walküre, steeped as it is in psychological intimacy, lends itself particularly well to being performed as ‘pure’ music, because if one excludes the set-piece ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ practically the entire opera unfolds in scenes of emotional turmoil between two or three characters. So if, as Mark Elder has signalled, this second instalment of his ‘Manchester Ring’ is likely to be the last, then he has chosen well. His performance of Die Walküre, which comes hard on the heels of a mightily successful live recording of Götterdämmerung, is a triumph of musicianship and raw drama.
The decision to split the performance across two evenings ensured that fatigue was held at bay among musicians and singers alike, and from first note to last the collective accuracy and energy remain crisp despite the conductor’s expansive tempos and demanding technical standards. Elder takes no prisoners with this reading, yet his troops serve him well thoughout Wagner’s heavenly lengths.
Of the two pairings at the opera’s heart the immortals, Brünnhilde and Wotan, are more powerfully characterised than the latter’s incestuous offspring. Stig Andersen is an impassioned Siegmund, but his voice lacks heroic luminosity and there is no great sense of connection between him and his new-found sister, Sieglinde – a role that Yvonne Howard assumed at very short notice for this performance. Howard is note-perfect and vocally ideal for the part; however, even before I became aware that she had been a last-minute substitute it was apparent that this fine soprano was not fully ‘inside’ the role.
The real excitement lies in the psychological dialogue between Susan Bullock as Brünnhilde and the Wotan of Egils Silins. The Latvian bass-baritone’s remarkable account of this complex role is consistently truthful, his voice sympathetically caught by the microphones. Silins did not exactly dominate the stage when he stood in as the Flying Dutchman at the Royal Opera in 2011, and here too it is true that his vocal quality lacks bloom and heft; yet such are his intelligence and engagement with the score’s dramatic impetus that the troubled god’s anguish is rendered utterly gripping.
It helps that Silins is partnered by an equally outstanding Brünnhilde. Any perceived exhaustion belongs not to the singer but to Brünnhilde herself as she struggles to appease her father while standing by her principles. Tensions between the two immortals are brilliantly sustained throughout, despite Elder’s deliberate speeds and lack of febricity, and as for Bullock’s ‘Valkyrie’ moments, the pinging accuracy of her high whoops makes the spine tingle.
Eight more strong Valkyries ride hard above the orchestral swell at the start of Act Three, each of them adding lustre to the musical excitement, while two astute artists, Clive Bayley (Hunding) and Susan Bickley (Fricka), make their own telling contributions to the recording’s success.
Notwithstanding the retention of intrusive applause at the end of each act and the inadequacy of the documentation on the accompanying disc (it contains a bare-bones libretto and translation without so much as a stage direction to illuminate the context), this version of Die Walküre is far more than a souvenir of a memorable event. Among a rich harvest of great recordings, it is a contender.