WAGNER: Die Walküre / Eva-Maria Westbroek, sop (Sieglinde); Stuart Skelton, ten (Siegmund); Eric Halfvarson, bass (Hunding); James Rutherford, bar (Wotan); Iréne Theorin, sop (Brünnhilde); Elisabeth Kulman, mezzo (Fricka); Alwyn Mellor, sop (Gerhilde); Anna Gabler, sop (Ortlinde); Jennifer Johnston, mezzo (Waltraute); Claudia Huckle, alto (Schwertleite); Katherine Broderick, sop (Helmwige); Eva Vogel, mezzo (Siegrune); Anna Lapkovskaja, mezzo (Grimgerde); Simone Schröder, mezzo (Roβweiβe); Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Simon Rattle, cond / BR Klassik BRK 900177 (live: Munich, January 29-February 10, 2019)
After having been thrilled by Simon Rattle’s Das Rheingold, I was delighted to see that Die Walküre was being released next month, and so sampled it for review.
Well, let’s go over the few positives. Elisabeth Kulman, that excellent mezzo, is back as Fricka and sings as well as ever. Tenor Stuart Skelton, who usually sounds hard, wooden and strained in most of the performances I’ve heard by him, actually sounds wonderful on this set as Siegmund, singing not only with a nice lyric line but interpreting his role quite sensitively.
That’s about it.
Michael Volle, sadly, does not return as Wotan. Instead we get an ugly-voiced, wobbly baritone thing called James Rutherford. Three notes into his entrance music and I wanted to throw a rock at his head. We also get saddled with not one but two wobbly, unsteady sopranos, Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde and Iréne Theorin as Brünnhilde, and if anything Theorin is worse than Westbroek because her timbre is ugly in addition to having a wobble. Eric Halfvarson, the one really poor singer on the Rheingold (Fafner), returns here to ruin Hunding’s music, and neither he nor his wobble have aged well.
The Valkyries are, collectively, a fluttery-sounding bunch whose singing resembles one of those British Ladies’ Choral Societies of old women who get together to sing Handel choruses and the like. Moreover, our lead Valkyrie, Alwyn Mellor, messes up the beat in her opening lines. This is unforgivable from a major conductor like Rattle, and should have been corrected forthwith.
But why bother when the cast is, with only two exceptions, uniformly awful? OK, so he couldn’t get Volle to return as Wotan. Do you mean to tell me that a conductor of Rattle’s stature couldn’t find a first-rate Wotan? Anne Scwhanewilms could have sung Sieglinde, or perhaps even Brünnhilde. She has a lovely, steady voice. I would have plugged Kevin Short in as Hunding. If you use Schwanewilms as Brünnhilde, use Anna Netrebko or Ailyn Perez as Sieglinde. Bingo, you’ve just improved your cast with first-rate singers.
I have a sinking feeling that we’re going to see Halfvarson return as Fafner and Theorin as Brünnhilde in Siegfried, and equally terrible cast choices for Götterdämmerung, so I will stop my listening to the Rattle Ring and close the curtain on this sad episode. And Alan Blyth thought that the Westminster Gold Ring was beneath him to review?
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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