On the face of it, it was a noble idea to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the founding of Herbert von Karajan’s Salzburg Easter Festival by staging the work with which it was inaugurated and even replicating the scenery and backdrops of Karajan’s staging. However I doubt that Karajan would have recognised much of his original concept-either musically or visually-from the resultant production.
The original Karajan staging was very much in the style characterised as “ New Bayreuth”-monumental abstract sets, singers all but stationary and declaiming their parts, timeless costumes which could serve for Lord of The Rings as much as Wagner’s Ring and lighting best described as “Stygian Gloom.” Gunther Schneider-Siemssen’s sets have always seemed to me to be some of the most effective and attractive-modern but relevant. The images that were painted on glass panels are here projected by laser and with the improved lighting this does at least do some justice to Karajan’s vision. Vera Nemirova’s production imposed on Karajan’s concept has the now standard “Regie” image of Siegmund dressed as a 1940’s refugee, Wotan in a pony-tailed wig which results in him resembling UK comedian Bill Bailey, a Hunding who resembles a provincial shopkeeper and Valkyries with feathered wings attached to their Viking helmets. The Act 3 Prelude features a cast of what I presume are victims of the conflict from which the heroes are being gleaned-though the Valkyries stand motionless assembled on the great curving ramp-but at least there is an impressive burst of flame at the Magic Fire.
Karajan would be surprised to see the Dresden Staatskapelle in the pit-the Berlin Philharmonic under Rattle has been lured to the glitzy and lucrative Baden-Baden Easter Festival with Thielemann’s Dresdeners replacing them-critical opinion suggests that Salzburg got the better of the swap deal!
Thielemann delivers a beautifully crafted reading; the orchestral sound is “svelte” rather than “plush” in the manner of the VPO or brilliant in the manner of the BPO. I am pleased to note that he still slows down for the big climax in the Ride of The Valkyries, a gesture reminiscent of Knappertsbusch. The recorded sound on Bluray is rich and realistic without matching the best that can be achieved on CD.
I have left the vocal contributions to last. VitaliJ Kowaljow repeats his fine Wotan from the Barenboim La Scala set, Anja Kampe makes a thrilling debut as Brunnhilde, reminding us visually of Anja Silja but vocally far superior. She has progressed so far since I first heard her in concert here in Nottingham being introduced to the UK public by Sir Mark Elder and giving us a beautiful Liebestod. The other Anja-Harteros-is also debuting as Sieglinde on this set-she is decent but uninspiring. Christa Mayer is a noble Fricka and the Valkyries are excellent.
George Zeppenfeld looks and sounds nothing like the dangerous hulking brute of a Hunding in Karajan’s-and indeed Wagner’s- conception. He sings well enough in his light range, but utterly fails to impress as Hunding.
I have left the Siegmund of Peter Seiffert till last. Aged 63 when the performance took place, this tenor has had a long and successful career. His voice was glorious at its peak, among the finest of its era as many recordings confirm. It is a pity therefore that he has continued to undertake roles for which he no longer has the resources and more to the point that he still gets the casting.
I can only advise this-he is appalling! He can sustain NO legato whatsoever, his upper register is a strangulated caterwaul and it is quite the worst tenor performance in a leading Wagner role that I can recall-ever- trumping even Christian Franz’s Siegfried on the Simone Young Hamburg Ring. His cries of “Wälse” are frankly embarrassing-beyond painful! It is a relief when Hunding dispatches him.
As a tribute to the vision and artistry of Karajan, this performance falls flat. One only has to think of Karajan’s cast to realise why this is the case. To get an impression of the true mastery of Karajan’s achievement, recordings in excellent but sadly Mono sound can be obtained from various sources of the actual performances to complement the stereo studio version-just think Crespin, Stewart, Talvela, Veasey, Janowitz and of course Vickers and compare them to the above!
There are elements that work in this production-with the exception of Seiffert the vocals range from superb to decent, and orchestrally it is very fine. The production is one of the sanest on film, despite some risible moments and the sets are great. The direction for film is more than satisfactory, with an emphasis on long shots which take in the whole stage picture. Is this enough for a strong recommendation? Not nearly! Disappointing! 2.5 Stars. Stewart Crowe.
The original sets created for the first production of Die Walküre at the Salzburg Easter Festival overseen by the festival's founder Herbert von Karajan were reconstructed for the festival's 50th anniversary. The circular platforms prove to be relatively flexible for reconfiguration and spiralling and are updated with some projection technology that allows the static backdrops a little more movement without moving too far away from the original conception and are stylised enough to still work to tremendous effect. Unfortunately, that's about as far as it goes. Concept, themes or even direction in this Die Walküre are almost non-existent.
It's not even as if the Salzburg Easter Festival believed that they could lift the designs of an old production and expect it to work by itself. Vera Nemirova is brought in as the director to bring some kind of control over how the drama is played out, but she doesn't seem to bring a great deal to it. There are a few modern touches made to the costumes and props to prevent it looking too embarrassing, but the costumes still look frightfully outdated, Brünnhilde replete with armour, spear and winged helmet.
There's a strong cast, (Seiffert, Zeppenfeld, Kowaljow, Harteros, Kampe, Mayer) and the majority of the performances were routine and capable, but with a few exceptions they don't really manage to bring any great sense of life or urgency to the rather dull, traditional staging. The main talking points about this cast however are Anja Harteros in her scenic role debut as Sieglinde and Anja Kampe as Brünnhilde. I had my doubts about Harteros in Act I, her Sprechgesang sounding rather thin and stretched, but her voice blooms into emotional expression terrifically and her commitment can't be faulted. If nothing else, she brings some life to a production that for the most part felt rather static and routine. Anja Kampe on the other hand struggles rather more, but like Harteros grows in conviction as the opera progresses. Unlike the Act II scenes, there was palpable tension and fear in her Act III encounter with Wotan, a tension that carried over marvellously from the Valkyrie scene where you can almost feel the dark cloud of the Warfather approaching.
While the lack of imagination in the direction doesn't help the earlier scenes, a greater sense of mounting tension and danger is achieved through the wonder of the extraordinary inherent momentum that Wagner builds up in Die Walküre. The work itself more or less takes over, asserts its own power and comes through to a devastating conclusion/conflagration. It doesn't do it on its own of course, but those forces have to be controlled and managed perfectly. I didn't think Christian Thielemann was doing enough in the pit in the first two Acts to lift the production out of its routine delivery, but the efficacy of his tight rein is evident by the way that the dynamic shifts in the final scenes, from thunderous to deeply moving in its poignancy over questions of fate and how much influence we can have over it. That momentum in the music and singing performances carries this Die Walküre through, but other than that, there is little that is memorable about the revival of this classic production in Salzburg.