Christian Thielemann’s Der Ring des Nibelungen

The label’s name and legendary yellow logo synonymous for many music lovers
with top-quality recordings of Germanic repertory, Deutsche Grammophon’s
catalogue already contains two studio-recorded Ring Cycles (those with
Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker and James Levine
marshalling his Metropolitan Opera forces), as well as two of the most
passionately-discussed Cycles in recent history (Patrice ChÈreau’s
‘Centennial’ Bayreuth Ring, conducted by Pierre Boulez, and the
Metropolitan Opera’s most recent production, directed by Cirque du Soleil
alumnus Robert Lepage).† With these and other DGG versions readily available,
alongside dozens of Ring recordings old and new, it is indicative of
Deutsche Grammophon’s commitment to remaining at the epicenter of the
operatic recording industry, even in a supposedly declining market, that
precious resources were dedicated to recording, producing, and releasing this
souvenir of Sven-Eric Bechtolf’s production of Der Ring des
, premiËred at the Wiener Staatsoper in November 2011.† The
Staatsoper’s ‘pit band,’ from the ranks of which the players of the
Wiener Philharmoniker are extracted, has not been represented on authorized
commercial recordings since the pioneering DECCA Ring conducted by Sir
Georg Solti, and any opportunity to hear one of the world’s finest orchestras
in the music of Wagner is especially welcome.† It is unfortunate that so many
elements of this Staatsoper Ring are reproduced elsewhere, not least
the combination of this Ring’s conductor, Wotan, Siegfried, and
Siegfried and Gˆtterd‰mmerung Br¸nnhilde, available on
Opus Arte CD and DVD recordings of the 2008 Bayreuth Ring.†
Nevertheless, any Ring, whether recorded anew or mined from forgotten
archives, is a noteworthy release, and this Wiener Staatsoper Ring is
a performance with many virtues, recorded with the superb clarity and natural
but fastidiously-controlled sonic balance for which Deutsche Grammophon is
celebrated.† Benefitting from the unique acoustical qualities of the
Staatsoper, this recording is superior in terms of basic sound quality to
virtually every other Ring recorded during staged performances, with
several crucial scenes displaying the frisson of live performance but
the sonic detail of studio recordings.

The Ring is a monumental challenge even for an opera company as
storied as the Wiener Staatsoper, and one of the most interesting developments
in the Classical recording industry during the past quarter-century has been
the efforts of opera companies beyond the traditional ‘Wagner centers’ to
mount and record their own Ring Cycles, often shattering the
conventions of Wagnerian production values as derived from the stage directions
in the composer’s scores.† Naturally, the degrees of success in these
efforts have varied enormously, with both undisputed triumphs and spectacular
failures.† Many listeners may be inclined to think it fortunate that, in the
context of DGG’s new Wiener Staatsoper Ring, they encounter only the
audio component of the production at hand.† The debatable merits of the stage
production notwithstanding, DGG’s recording inarguably allows the
listener’s attention to be focused solely on Wagner’s music, and close
attention to this performance is rewarded with many felicities.† One of the
most significant of these is the singing of the Staatsoper Chorus, which by
Wagner’s design is heard only in Gˆtterd‰mmerung.† As the vassals
who assemble in the Gibichung Hall when summoned by Hagen, the gentlemen of the
chorus sing with great power and command of the demanding tessitura of
their music.† In the scene by the Rhine in which Siegfried recounts episodes
from his youth to his hunting companions, the choristers sing with audible
wonderment and, as Hagen’s snare of lies entraps and dooms Siegfried,
increasing horror.† Female choristers similarly take advantage of the limited
opportunities given to them with singing of distinction.† Surprisingly, the
playing of the orchestra does not always rise to the level of the choral
singing.† As one might expect, there are stretches of playing that equal or
surpass the work of the best orchestras in the world, but there are also
passages—some of them including dramatically critical
Leitmotifs—that find the orchestra lacking focus, balance, and
precision.† The sheer professionalism of the orchestra makes it decidedly
unlikely that any lacks of preparation, rehearsal, or familiarity with the
music account for these lapses in ensemble and musicality, so the logical
attribution for the occasional defects falls onto the conductor.† Coordination
between stage and pit reveals few hints at the causes of the orchestral
pitfalls, being generally impeccable, leaving only conjecture.† Waywardness of
ensemble is most noticeable—and most damaging to the musical
performance—during Act One of Die Walk¸re, but exactness of
execution is restored in Act Two, formidably so in the ‘Todesverk¸ndigung’
Scene, and prevails throughout most of the Cycle.† Perfect Rings are
rarer than genuine Br¸nnhilde voices, of course, and even with momentary flaws
this performance displays all of the legendary hallmarks of the Wiener
Staatsoper Orchestra at its most imposing: luminous string tone, richness of
woodwind timbres that seem fed on Sachertorte, and the famed security
of horn playing that shames the horn sections of even very fine orchestras.†
Maestro Thielemann presides with the assurance of a conductor who obviously
knows and understands the music very well indeed, and there are passages that
reveal encouraging strokes of a master’s hand in phrasing and following the
dramatic thread of a scene from beginning to end.† Tempi are
uniformly well-judged, but what is missing is an audible sense of the
overriding structure that makes the Ring a credible cycle rather than
a series of four connected but separate operas.

The Wiener Staatsoper possesses a rich ensemble from which to draw singers
for principal rÙles in the Ring, and consistency of casting pays
great dividends in this performance.† Portraying the Rhinemaidens in both
Das Rheingold and Gˆtterd‰mmerung, Ileana Tonca, Ulrike
Helzel, and Zoryana Kushpler interact playfully but with carefully-judged tonal
balance.† Ms. Helzel and Ms. Kushpler also add their voices to the band of
warrior sisters in Die Walk¸re and to the trio of Norns in
Gˆtterd‰mmerung, in which capacity they are joined euphoniously by
IldikÛ Raimondi, who also sings the Valkyrie Gerhilde.† Complementing Ms.
Raimondi’s Gerhilde, Ms. Helzel’s Siegrune, and Ms. Kushpler’s
Schwertleite, the Staatsoper assembled an impressive band of Valkyries for
Die Walk¸re, with Donna Ellen as Helmwige, Alexandra Reinprecht as
Ortlinde, Aura Twarowska as Waltraute, Monika Bohinec as Grimgerde, and
Juliette Mars as Roflweifle.† Ensemble in the Valkyries’ contributions to
Act Three of Die Walk¸re is tight, with almost no individual vocal
misfires and departures from pitch to distract the listener.† There is little
sense of the humor that Wagner suggested was appropriate in the
‘Walk¸renritt,’ but there is great vitality in the way in which the
Valkyries hurl out their lines.† The cantilena-like passages in which
the Valkyries beg Wotan for mercy for Br¸nnhilde are beautifully done, and the
terror with which they receive Wotan’s pronouncement of Br¸nnhilde’s
punishment is credibly spontaneous.† Considering that they participate in
twenty of the most famous minutes in opera, it is interesting to note that so
many Ring productions feature such disappointing covens of Valkyries
and most welcome that the Wiener Staatsoper have cast the parts so
competently.† Another secondary rÙle that can be a primary source of
displeasure is the unseen avian voice that communicates with Siegfried: any
feelings of dread of the Stimme des Waldvogels are remedied immediately upon
hearing the first notes sung by Israeli soprano Chen Reiss, a
coloratura specialist whose lovely, poised tone and complete ease with
Wagner’s repetitive but ever-changing music convey that, at least for a
singer with Ms. Reiss’s gifts, warbling dire warnings is the most natural
thing in the operatic world.† Isolated to appearances in
Gˆtterd‰mmerung are Gutrune and Hagen, sung in this Ring by
Australian soprano Caroline Wenborne and South Korean bass Attila Jun.† Ms.
Wenborne brings to Gutrune’s music, some of which is quite strenuous in the
scene in which she spars with Br¸nnhilde, a pliant voice of size and security
equal to the part.† Mr. Jun, possessing a notably black-toned voice, is a
chilling Hagen despite being a somewhat cardboard presence.

Das Rheingold is the nearest of any of the Ring operas to
being a legitimate ensemble piece.† In Rheingold, the listener first
encounters several of the Ring’s power players, and in opera as in
all other aspects of life and art first impressions are tremendously
important.† There are also several characters whose only appearances in the
Ring occur in Das Rheingold, however, and these rÙles are
largely cast from strength in this production.† Loge’s presence is suggested
by Leitmotifs in the orchestra throughout the Ring, most
notably in the final scene of Die Walk¸re, but he is only seen and
heard in humanoid form in Das Rheingold, during the course of which it
becomes apparent that it is Loge’s prescience inspires his manipulation of
events that precipitate the dramatic progression of all that follows in the
Ring.† It is unusual to encounter a baritone as Loge, a part
originated by tenor Heinrich Vogl (whose rÙles at the Metropolitan Opera
included Lohengrin, Tannh‰user, Siegfried, and Tristan, in addition to Loge),
but Austrian baritone Adrian Erˆd—a deservedly revered artist in
Vienna—delivers the rÙle with fine tone and notable musical and verbal
dexterity.† Loge’s world-weariness is subtly conveyed by Mr. Erˆd’s tonal
shading, and the virility of his singing suggests a disarming sense of Loge’s
delight in his own cleverness.† Donner and Froh can be rather dull figures,
their posturing and threats of vengeance for the abduction of their sister
Freia growing tiresome even in their relatively brief duration, but the parts
are sung to great effect in this performance by Markus Eiche and Herbert
Lippert, respectively.† Mr. Lippert is a singer most associated with Mozart
repertory, but he proves himself an asset to this performance of Das
by singing boldly but within the scale of his natural
instrument.† His conjuring of the Rainbow Bridge to Valhalla is a magical
moment, shaped by Mr. Lippert with great imagination.† Donner’s raising of
the storm receives a similarly articulate and engagingly virile performance
from Mr. Eiche, who returns in Gˆtterd‰mmerung to sing a socially
impotent but ultimately pitiable Gunther.† Alexandra Reinprecht’s bright
soprano, also heard in Vienna in rÙles as diverse as Marie in Donizetti’s
La fille du rÈgiment and Massenet’s Manon (and as Ortlinde in this
Cycle’s Walk¸re), shines in Freia’s music, which often falls
victim to heavier voices less capable of conveying youth and beauty, two of her
qualities that most effectively play into Wotan’s bargain with Fasolt and
Fafner.† Sung by Lars Woldt and Ain Anger, Fasolt and Fafner—the rather
dim-witted giants who, ignorant of Wotan’s deception, agree to build Valhalla
in exchange for receiving Freia as their shared bride—are nasty louts, sung
with such self-congratulatory menace and petulance that Fafner’s slaying of
Fasolt in their quarrel over the ring seems inevitable.† Mr. Anger’s Fafter
returns—in ophidian form—in Siegfried, still almost comically evil
and oily of voice.† Also encountered in both Das Rheingold and
Siegfried are Anna Larsson’s Erda, a compelling portrayal that gains
immeasurably from the strength of the dynamic Swedish contralto’s lower
register, and the Mime of Wolfgang Schmidt.† Having sung Siegfried in several
notable Ring Cycles, Mr. Schmidt finds in Mime a far more congenial
assignment, the voice sounding more controlled and evenly-produced than in
larger-scaled rÙles.† Genuine beauty of tone is in short supply, but Mr.
Schmidt convincingly provides the creepiness needed for an effective Mime.†
Common to Rheingold, Siegfried, and
Gˆtterd‰mmerung is the Alberich of Tomasz Konieczny, an impressive
Polish artist who will sing Wotan in the Staatsoper’s 2013 – 2014 revival
of the Bechtolf Ring.† It can be argued that Alberich is the most
complex character in the Ring, trapped in a series of inept
interactions with societies that exploit and then reject him.† Broken by
bitterness, he pours out his hate in a curse that undermines the confidence
even of the mighty Wotan, and his dogged pursuit of the ring that he has cursed
but cannot cede leads to his demise.† Mr. Konieczny sings the part
wonderfully, sounding beguiled by the Rhinemaidens and then genuinely shocked
by their taunts, both arrogant and ashamed in his confrontation with Wotan and
Loge, goading but strangely tender in his ghostly scene with his son, Hagen.†
The vocal bite and dramatic depth of Mr. Konieczny’s performance bring to
mind Gustav Neidlinger, the veteran Alberich of many Ring productions:
equally as intriguing psychologically as Neidlinger’s famous Alberich, Mr.
Konieczny’s is in several passages, including his ‘haunting’ of Hagen in
Gˆtterd‰mmerung, even better sung.

A foundation is laid in Das Rheingold upon which the more
dramatically substantial Fricka is constructed in Die Walk¸re.† The
Fricka met in this Cycle’s Rheingold is a calculating intellectual
rather than merely a scolding consort, sung by German mezzo-soprano Janina
Baechle with a thoughtfully-colored voice allied to an unwavering intensity of
dramatic purpose.† The Ring may inhabit a superficially patriarchal
world, but Ms. Baechle’s interactions with her siblings Donner and Froh in
Rheingold make it clear that Fricka is the familial authority
figure.† It is more than usually evident that Fricka’s marriage to Wotan is
one of political maneuvering, a means of elevating her in power and prominence
to a status that she feels that is her birthright.† This does not preclude
affection for her husband, of course, but even this is something that can be
used to her advantage.† Dramatically, Fricka can be interpreted as Wagner’s
foil for Erda, Sieglinde, and Br¸nnhilde: essentially Erda’s archetypal
opposite in a very basic struggle between good and evil, she also shares with
Erda a certain measure of understanding of her predicament and a societal
barrier to breaking free from it.† Erda and Fricka are women of vision but
inaction: sharing insights into their respective environments, Erda’s global
and Fricka’s more individual, they nonetheless leave action to men.†
Erda’s blandishments are directed at Wotan, with the intention of spurring
him to action, and Fricka bullies both Wotan and Hunding into enacting her
orders.† Sieglinde moves between these camps, so to speak, going on after
Siegmund’s death but by the necessity of her own death leaving fulfillment of
her humble ambitions to her son, Siegfried.† Only Br¸nnhilde successfully
tramples the boundaries of the society into which she was born by seizing
control of her destiny.† Even in her seeming domination of Wotan, Fricka is
merely controlling her social order rather than truly transcending it.† Ms.
Baechle’s singing makes both Fricka’s exasperation and her self-righteous
authority audible, the voice strongly expressive in both Rheingold and
Walk¸re.† Ironically from a dramatic perspective, Ms. Baechle
returns in Gˆtterd‰mmerung as Waltraute, one of the
Valkyries—Wotan’s ‘illegitimate’ daughters—Fricka so loathes as
symbols of her husband’s disloyalty and fears as the people closest and most
precious to him.† Ms. Baechle’s singing as Waltraute is as impressive as it
is as Fricka, her voice simmering magnificently with fear and uncertainty in
her scene with Br¸nnhilde.† As did Fricka in Walk¸re, Waltraute
attempts to control the circumstances into which her social order has been
thrust, and Ms. Baechle’s powerful singing in both rÙles makes the parallel
unusually clear.

Die Walk¸re introduces a trio of important characters who do not
appear in any of the other Ring operas.† Hunding, Sieglinde’s
brutal husband and Fricka’s pawn, is physically imposing enough to carry out
Fricka’s commands with strength to spare and witless enough to do so without
questioning any of Fricka’s motives.† The performance by American bass Eric
Halfvarson conveys both of these qualities—Hunding’s brute force and
dullness—in spades, the voice darkly blunt but well-focused.† Like so many
of Wagner’s ‘heavy’ characters, though, Hunding is not completely devoid
of touches of humor, even in his unrelenting baseness of spirit, and more
desirable qualities: though he will win no awards for inducing marital bliss,
it is a valid point that Hunding is, despite his utter unsuitability,
Sieglinde’s rightful husband.† It cannot be said that Mr. Halfvarson’s
performance is likely to evoke any special sympathy for Hunding, but his
avoidance of stock villainous gestures might arouse twangs of pity for a very
simplistic man who is mercilessly—and ultimately fatally—plied by a woman
of superior intellect.† British tenor Christopher Ventris’s Siegmund is a
familiar creation, appreciated at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples and the Teatro
La Fenice in Venice in addition to the Wiener Staatsoper.† Though he sings
Wagner repertory to acclaim throughout the world, Mr. Ventris’s voice is not
of true Heldentenor proportions, which is not an immediate
disqualification from singing Siegmund.† In fact, he sings quite capably in
this performance, producing the notes in his difficult outbursts in Act One
with a degree of freedom.† He phrases handsomely in the
‘Todesverk¸ndigung’ but offers few insights into Siegmund’s inner
conflicts.† In truth, this Siegmund’s heroism pales in comparison with that
of his Sieglinde, so much so that he finally seems merely a Y-chromosome donor
rather than a bona fide contributor to Siegfried’s dramatic and emotional
genetics.† Singing Sieglinde in this performance, German mezzo-soprano
Waltraud Meier is a veteran of many Wagner productions, having proved her merit
as a Wagnerian both as Kundry and as Isolde.† Sieglinde is a daunting
assignment for a mezzo-soprano, but with Ms. Meier there are no worries about
the notes: she has even the most exposed top notes demanded by Sieglinde’s
music in her voice, and in this performance she delivers them almost totally
without strain.† Interestingly, it is the middle range of Ms. Meier’s voice
that sounds slightly cautious and unsteady in this Walk¸re, but her
lightning-intensity dramatic instincts are more flashing than ever.† The
torrents of sound that she unleashes in Acts One and Two are thrilling, and she
digs more deeply into the character Wagner has given her to sing than any other
singer in the cast of this Ring.† Despite gorgeous music in Act One
and searingly intense music in Act Two, the greatest test of any Sieglinde
comes in Act Three, in her response to Br¸nnhilde’s plan to rescue her from
Wotan’s anger, ‘O hehrstes Wunder!’† Ms. Meier delivers this passage as
though singing it for the first time, the sentiment sounding like the sudden
awakening of a young woman to the promise of motherhood.† Vocally, Ms. Meier
scales these heights with remarkable freshness and security.† Few listeners
would dispute Ms. Meier’s reputation as one of her generation’s best
singing actresses: none could deny that this performance confirms that her
reputation is justified.† Singers with such exalted reputations sometimes
disappoint, but there is no mistaking the quality of this Sieglinde.

Also unique to the Walk¸re performance is the Br¸nnhilde of
Swedish soprano Katarina Dalayman, who does not sing the same part in the
subsequent Siegfried and Gˆtterd‰mmerung performances.† It
is good to have this recorded documentation of Ms. Dalayman’s
Walk¸re Br¸nnhilde, which is not available elsewhere.† [Her account
of the Gˆtterd‰mmerung Br¸nnhilde is available in a recording of
concert performances with the HallÈ Orchestra.]† Displaying wisdom that
eludes many of her colleagues, Ms. Dalayman has mostly paced her trajectory
through the Wagner repertory according to the growth and development of her
voice, starting her journey in rÙles like Brang‰ne before moving into
Br¸nnhilde territory.† She was not yet fifty at the time of this
Walk¸re, and the voice remained on generally excellent form,
exhibiting few signs of hard use.† Ms. Dalayman does not ‘taste’ the
excitement of her opening Battle Cries like Marjorie Lawrence or Astrid Varnay,
nor does she possess the kind of vocal athleticism of Birgit Nilsson.† She
approaches her ‘Hojotohos’ unflinchingly, however, and despite a few
wayward pitches she conveys the impetuosity that is central to Br¸nnhilde’s
character.† She improves as the performance progresses, expressing gratitude
for the lower center of vocal gravity in the ‘Todesverk¸ndigung’ with
firm, attractive singing.† She indicates Br¸nnhilde’s frustration with the
defiant Siegmund but mostly misses the nuances of the Valkyrie experiencing the
first pangs of human compassion.† There is ample fear in Ms. Dalayman’s
singing of her first lines in Act Three, when Br¸nnhilde is being pursued by
Wotan, and a brightened tone of triumph enters the voice when she facilitates
Sieglinde’s escape.† Throughout Act Three, Ms. Dalayman offers her best
singing of the performance, placing tones in the upper register with precision
and authority.† The girlish affection and resignation that she brings to
Br¸nnhilde’s defense and farewell to Wotan are touching.† Ms. Dalayman is
not in this performance a Br¸nnhilde of legend, but she is a very good one,
achieving much in a rÙle that confounds even accomplished efforts.

Singing Wotan in Rheingold and Walk¸re and the Wanderer
in Siegfried, Albert Dohmen was an eleventh-hour substitute for Juha
Uusitalo.† Mr. Dohmen is a Wagnerian of proven distinction, but the three
incarnations of Wotan are widely acknowledged as exceptional challenges even by
Wagner’s exalted standards.† Musically, Wotan’s music veritably defines
the dramatic bass-baritone em>Fach, the tessitura extending from
bass depths to baritone heights, occasionally within the brief space of a
single musical phrase.† Thankfully, Mr. Dohmen is a rare singer in whose
performance Wotan’s weariness and disenfranchisement do not equate with
wobbling.† There are instances, especially in Die Walk¸re, in which
pitches are not as precise and lines not as eloquently shaped as would be
ideal, but Mr. Dohmen’s voice generally sounds on good form.† He takes
command winningly in Das Rheingold, greeting Valhalla with ringing
tone.† There is fantastic contrast in Mr. Dohmen’s performance in Die
, his live-wire nervousness in his first interview with
Br¸nnhilde giving way to the boiling ire and boundless sadness of his
arraignment and renunciation of her in Act Three.† When this Wotan takes his
leave of Br¸nnhilde as the Magic Fire encircles her, he is already a broken
man, and this is audible in the hollowness of Mr. Dohmen’s tone.† As the
Wanderer, there is something very moving in Mr. Dohmen’s singing, especially
in the failing Wotan’s encounter with his grandson, Siegfried.† The beauty
of Mr. Dohmen’s softer singing conveys feelings more intimate than defeat and
shame: there are also elements of pride and hope.† Though he was in slightly
fresher voice in the 2008 Bayreuther Festspiele Ring recorded by Opus
Arte, Mr. Dohmen improves upon that Cycle with these performances, in which the
soul of the character is more tellingly explored.

Siegfried is sung in both Siegfried and Gˆtterd‰mmerung
by American tenor Stephen Gould, a busy artist with as legitimate a claim to
being designated a true Heldentenor as any artist singing today.† Its
formidable tessitura—rising to a top C in
Gˆtterd‰mmerung—notwithstanding, Siegfried is, in both of his
appearances, an almost impossibly long rÙle, his contributions to
Siegfried alone being almost triple the duration of an average Italian
dramatic tenor rÙle.† Stamina and meticulous knowledge of the score are
equally important, the latter quality allowing the tenor to pace his
performance according to cognizance of the passages during which he can rest
the voice in order to reserve power for the climaxes.† In this sense,
recordings of live performances are the best evidence for judging a tenor’s
true capabilities for singing Siegfried, and Mr. Gould is revealed to be a
clever artist who mostly makes choices that benefit his concepts of both the
pre- and post-Br¸nnhilde Siegfrieds.† Few contemporary accounts survive of
Georg Unger, the tenor who created both Siegfrieds for Wagner at Bayreuth, so
it is difficult to assess the extent to which Wagner expected Siegfrieds to
possess both power and tonal beauty.† Neither of Siegfried’s duets with
Br¸nnhilde is particularly romantic in tone, repeated cries of ‘Heil!’ not
creating the most seductive of atmospheres, but there can and should be great
feeling in Siegfried’s death scene.† Historically, it is possible to suggest
that only Lauritz Melchior approached a level of achievement as Siegfried that
might be considered ideal, and Mr. Gould does not approach the sort of
perfection in the parts that one longs without hope to hear.† Mr. Gould is
superior to many of his contemporary rivals, however, and his performances in
this Ring are more memorable than those in the 2008 Bayreuth Cycle.†
In Siegfried, Mr. Gould brings adolescent petulance to his exchanges
with Mime and rollicking high spirits to his combat with Fafner.† Like most
Siegfrieds, he survives more than he conquers the Forging Song, but he sings
with wonder when following the Stimme des Waldvogels and passion when
contemplating the slumbering Br¸nnhilde.† Phrasing in both the closing duet
in Siegfried and his opening duet in Gˆtterd‰mmerung is
finely-wrought, and strain in the upper register—sorely tested on both
occasions—is put to dramatic use.† The Siegfried who arrives at the
Gibichung Hall is a self-assured but still somewhat immature young man, and Mr.
Gould makes much of the pain that Siegfried feels from the sting of his
friends’ betrayal.† His flirting with the Rhinemaidens is light-hearted, and
he sounds genuinely befuddled by their warnings.† The machismo of his
descriptions of his youthful adventures to Hagen’s hunting party is deflated
by the pierce of Hagen’s spear, and Mr. Gould provides his most subtle and
beautiful singing of the Cycle in his death scene.† The world is not populated
by tenors capable of singing Siegfried, but Mr. Gould gives a credible
performance of some of the most punishing music in the tenor repertory.

Linda Watson’s Siegfried and Gˆtterd‰mmerung
Br¸nnhildes are both better-sung and better-recorded in Vienna than at
Bayreuth three years earlier.† Like several of her colleagues in this
Staatsoper Ring, Ms. Watson is a veteran Wagnerian, having
participated in Ring productions throughout the world.† Dramatically,
her Br¸nnhilde remains a work in progress, which is indicative of a welcome
artistic curiosity.† Here building upon previous performances, Ms. Watson
sings with greater involvement and dedication to meaningfully delivering the
text than have been heard from her in past, and she achieves moments of genuine
dramatic excellence.† It was cruel of Wagner to pair a fresh-voiced
Br¸nnhilde in a duet at the opera’s end with a tenor drained by a long haul
of singing in Siegfried, and Ms. Watson admittedly sails through the
duet with far more energy than Mr. Gould can manage.† Soprano and tenor are
more fairly matched in their duet in the Gˆtterd‰mmerung Prologue,
and the byplay between Ms. Watson and Mr. Gould is expert.† The top Cs that
Br¸nnhilde is asked to produce to end both duets are in place but
uncomfortable, though Ms. Watson’s upper register is mostly in good working
order.† The amplitude of Ms. Watson’s instrument is most apparent in her
trio with Gunther and Hagen, when the full force of the humiliated
Br¸nnhilde’s anger is unleashed by the American soprano with snarling
power.† The brightly feminine tone with which Ms. Watson describes
Br¸nnhilde’s happiness with Siegfried to Waltraute turns imperious when the
fallen Valkyrie realizes that her sister has come on ‘official business,’
so to speak.† If the greatest test for a Sieglinde is her ‘O hehrstes
Wunder!’ in the final Act of Walk¸re, the highest peak that
Br¸nnhilde must ascend is her Immolation Scene in
Gˆtterd‰mmerung.† It is anything but coincidental that both scenes
are musically linked by Leitmotifs, Br¸nnhilde’s self-sacrifice
framed by the return of thematic material associated with Sieglinde that is
heard at no other time in the Ring except in Sieglinde’s final scene
in Die Walk¸re.† Not unlike the way in which Siegfried is tried by
the closing duet in Siegfried, the Immolation Scene comes after
Br¸nnhilde has been required to sing unstintingly throughout the four hours of
Gˆtterd‰mmerung.† Ms. Watson gives her all, loading the voice into
the music fearlessly despite audible fatigue and still producing sounds of
bracing efficacy in the upper register.† There are a few raw attacks to remind
the listener that, despite the pulsing inevitability of the rising
tessitura, this is extraordinarily difficult music.† As a vocal
actress, Ms. Watson is a Br¸nnhilde in command of all of her faculties,
sweetly lyrical in love, tempestuous in rage, and unhesitatingly firm of
purpose in death.† Several of the world’s larger opera houses have recently
offered their audiences Br¸nnhildes considerably less pleasing to the ears
than Ms. Watson is in this Ring: much praise is owed to Ms. Watson for
Siegfried and Gˆtterd‰mmerung Br¸nnhildes in this
Ring that can be enjoyed with only miniscule reservations.

With complete Ring Cycles in the works with Valery Gergiev (leading
Mariinsky forces on the theatre’s house label) and Marek Janowski (conducting
the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin on PentaTone), this Wiener Staatsoper
Ring from Deutsche Grammophon contributes to an unlikely embarrassment
of riches being offered in homage to Wagner on the occasion of the bicentennial
of his birth.† The devoted Wagnerite in 2013 is fortunate to have a plethora
of Ring recordings available for study and submersion, ranging from
Metropolitan Opera Cycles from early in the history of that Company’s
Saturday matinÈe broadcasts and famous traversals of the complete Cycle by
Wilhelm Furtw‰ngler at La Scala and for RAI Roma to an array of Bayreuth
Rings, the most recent to emerge from the mists of time being a 1962
Cycle conducted by Rudolf Kempe.† Though Wagnerian traditions are more
firmly-entrenched in Germany than in Austria, it is surprising that the Wiener
Staatsoper is not more extensively represented in the Ring
discography.† Superbly recorded and presented, this Ring does not
consistently capture the Staatsoper forces at the incomparable levels of
greatness of which they remain capable, but its lack of any glaring weaknesses
among its large cast of young and veteran singers is undeniably appreciable.†
In the hearts and on the shelves of all zealous Wagnerites, there is always
room for another Ring, and even without Flagstads, Melchiors,
Nilssons, and Mˆdls this is a fine one.

Joseph Newsome

[This review was first published at Voix des Arts. It is reprinted
with the permission of the author.]

Das Rheingold—A. Dohmen (Wotan), J.
Baechle (Fricka), A. Reinprecht (Freia), A. Larsson (Erda), T. Konieczny
(Alberich), M. Eiche (Donner), H. Lippert (Froh), A. Erˆd (Loge), W.
Schmidt (Mime), L. Woldt (Fasolt), A. Anger (Fafner), I. Tonca (Woglinde),
U. Helzel (Wellgunde), Z. Kushpler (Flosshilde)

Die Walk¸re—K. Dalayman
(Br¸nnhilde), W. Meier (Sieglinde), A. Dohmen (Wotan), C. Ventris
(Siegmund), J. Baechle (Fricka), E. Halfvarson (Hunding), D. Ellen
(Helmwige), I. Raimondi (Gerhilde), A. Reinprecht (Ortlinde), A. Twarowska
(Waltraute), U. Helzel (Siegrune), M. Bohinec (Grimgerde), Z. Kushpler
(Schwertliete), J. Mars (Roflweifle)

Siegfried—S. Gould (Siegfried), L.
Watson (Br¸nnhilde), A. Dohmen (der Wanderer), W. Schmidt (Mime), T.
Konieczny (Alberich), A. Larsson (Erda), A. Anger (Fafner), C. Reiss
(Stimme des Waldvogels)

Gˆtterd‰mmerung—S. Gould
(Siegfried), L. Watson (Br¸nnhilde), A. Jun (Hagen), M. Eiche (Gunter), T.
Konieczny (Alberich), C. Wenborne (Gutrune), J. Baechle (Waltraute), Z.
Kushpler (1. Norn, Flosshilde), U. Helzel (2. Norn, Wellgunde), I. Raimondi
(3. Norn), I. Tonca (Woglinde)

Click here for extracts from this recording.

image_description=DG 0289 479 1560 7
product_title=Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883): Der Ring des Nibelungen
product_by=Chor und Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper; Christian Thielemann [Recorded ‘live’ during performances at the Wiener Staatsoper]
product_id=DG 0289 479 1560 7 [14 CDs + 2 DVDs]
price=£ 77.22