A good, if not great, production of the most accessible opera of the Ring Cycle
I happen to love all the Ring Cycle operas, as I do with Wagner's music overall. Siegfried is my actual personal favourite, but when it comes to gripping drama and accessibility Die Walkure is really the jewel in the crown. I however don't think this 2004 Liceu Walkure is the best one on DVD, that's a tie between the 1992 Bayreuth and the 1980 Chereau-directed performances(the 1990 Met also is highly recommended). It is however much better than the dull Stuttgart and Weimar performances.
Are there flaws with this performances? For me yes, but the good do outweigh the bad. I didn't care for either the Siegmund and Sieglinde. Linda Watson I know from her Kundry, a much heavier and more dimensional role than Sieglinde, that she is capable of singing Wagner. And it isn't that she can't sing the role, she can, in fact vocally she is excellent. Her acting and stage presence are not as good, she doesn't convey the pain and ardour that is conveyed so brilliantly by Waltraud Meier and Jeanine Altmeyer, so she comes across as bland instead. The Siegmund is Richard Berkeley-Steele, sadly I didn't care much for his performance either. While he is more heroic later on, his tone is mostly strained and he spends most of his time looking worried.
Fortunately the rest of the performances fare much better. Eric Halvarson does have a rather dry vocal production here, but his Hunding is suitably unyielding and menacing. Lioba Braun doesn't quite surpass Anna Larsson as the best Fricka on DVD, similarly Halvarson compared to Matti Salminen with Hunding, but she is still outstanding, beautifully sung and stylishly and shrewishly acted. Deborah Polaski I found superb as Brunnhilde, thrilling voice that doesn't sound at all taxed and intelligent acting, exactly like her Liceu Isolde except more secure at the top. Likewise with Falk Struckmann's Wotan, who in singing is much improved over Das Rheingold, much more controlled, and he sings the role with nobility and energy, making Wotan's Farewell and Act 2 monologue a treat to listen to.
As for production values, I did like the evocative sets, the huge tree is put to good use and doesn't feel or look like an obstruction for the cast. The lighting is imaginative, and the costumes mostly pretty good. One of the notable exceptions though is Wotan's, just ridiculous. Struckmann does deserve credit for looking dignified in it for that was more than that costume deserved. The orchestral playing is lush and powerful especially the warmth expressed in the strings during Wotan's Farewell, and while not as musical or as enigmatic as other conductors like Barenboim or Boulez for this particular work Bertrand De Billy does its job well with few if any major glitches.
In regard to the staging, mostly it works fine. Act 1 is a disappointment though with no real chemistry between the leads, and if it weren't for Halvarson's Hunding being so good dramatically this act would have been emotionally stillborn. Things later on get much better, with the Wotan and Fricka and Wotan and Brunnhilde scenes intense and moving in Act 2 and apart from a claustrophobic Ride of the Valkyries staging, which considering how potentially problematic that scene was hardly surprising as few other versions got that scene right either, the third is really high-octane stuff.
In a nutshell a good Walkure, not great but nowhere near the worst you can find. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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