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Die Walkure or How I Stopped Worrying and Leaned t


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#1 Ed Waffle

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Posted 05 April 2004 - 06:02 PM

Die Walkure or How I Stopped Worrying and Leaned to Love Brunnhilde.

The Metropolitan Opera is doing a Ring Cycle this spring. Die Walkure was the broadcast on Saturday, April 3. I was able to listen to most of Act I at home, parts of Act II and the quiz on the car radio and all of Act III at home on headphones. It was wonderful. I simply listened and enjoyed, swept along by the music and some great performances. A very different story from seven years ago when the Met broadcast some of the same artists in the same work, when I was more interested in how a soprano who I adored would do in a role that was no longer in her compass.

James Morris is the indispensable Wotan of the past 25 years. He can still sing the hell out that role and his voice sounds healthy and well supported. Deborah Voigt owns Sieglinde. Expressive, beautiful tone, seemingly effortless from top to bottom of her range. Jane Eaglen as Brunnhilde was wonderful. She had all the “Wagnerian” aspects of the role—stamina, control and power—but also has a gorgeous voice.

Placido Domingo is most likely a few years past Siegmund. Siegmund’s range fit him like a glove in 1997, but the high notes just aren’t there (or may not be there in a given performance) anymore. For a typical Wagnerian tenor this wouldn’t be a problem. Musicianship, diction and staying power are generally enough. Hitting all the notes is almost a bonus. But since this is Domingo, one wishes that he would realize that many roles are beyond him now.

Yvonne Naef (Fricka) is yet another talented dramatic mezzo. This is the age of the lower female voice. Levine kept things together from the pit. He can be very singer friendly conductor and was on Saturday.

The last time I had made a point of listening to Die Walkure from the Met was in 1997. The buzz then was about Domingo’s debut as Siegmund and Hildegard Behrens as Brunnhilde. After the premiere there was a firestorm of criticism, some of very mean-spirited, of Behrens. There were those who wrote that she could no longer sing such a demanding role and others who wrote that she was never able to do justice to the pagan princess and others yet who thought she had always been terrible in everything she tried.

I had first seen and heard Behrens as the Fidelio Leonora in a concert performance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra during the mid-1970s. I fell in love with her as an artist that night and followed her career to the extent possible. She had been singing some of the heaviest roles in the repertoire for decades—Wagner, Strauss, a Verdi voice shredder occasionally and it was obvious that it was beginning to tell on her voice.

In 1997 I barely listened to Domingo and Voigt in the first act because I was so invested in Behrens. As the first Hohotoho approached I was thinking more about what would be coming and less about what I was hearing. Would she make it—could she hit still hit the notes without having to shout or scream? Would her professionalism, musicianship, sense memory and sheer will get her through until the last act, when her silent dramatic response to Wotan’s monologue would (as always) carry the day? It was agony for me and for many other of her fans—we were filled with anticipation and dread, almost praying that she would somehow prevail.

I have a tape of that broadcast somewhere but I don’t listen to it. Becoming that emotionally invested in the success or (relative) failure of an artist can be debilitating. Listening to Eaglen sail through one of the most demanding roles for the lyric stage, hearing an occasional flat note, a hint of a wobble here and there, was heaven compared with the anxiety of waiting for a favorite artist to show the critics that they were wrong.

Behrens had some real problems on that spring afternoon—her high notes were a bit shrill. She has never had an outstanding lower register and she didn’t then. But she continued to sing Strauss and Wagner in Europe to significant acclaim. I will remember her as Leonora in 1977 or Isolde in 1981.

#2 dirac

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Posted 06 April 2004 - 01:55 PM

Ed, I was listening, too. I actually had the opposite reaction to Domingo -- okay, maybe this is a role he should relinquish, but how dare he continue to sound so good (especially considering his monumentally heavy schedule over the years)? He's got nerve. :blushing: You are correct, though -- the high notes are shot. Voigt was beautiful -- even on my lousy AM reception. I will never be a huge Eaglen fan -- the voice is big, but not gorgeous to me -- but I'm glad she's around to sing Wagner.

I heard Behrens back when, but I'm embarrassed to admit I have no recollection of the performance at all.....

#3 Mel Johnson

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Posted 06 April 2004 - 02:13 PM

Parsifal, or why I cringe ever time somebody says Wagner.

My introduction to Wagner was a Good Friday performance of the above-captioned opera on Good Friday 1958 at the old Met. I don't remember anything about it, except that at about the third hour I wanted OUT!

#4 oberon

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Posted 06 April 2004 - 02:19 PM

It is interesting that, here in New York, some people who maligned Behrens during her Met RING cycles are now wishing she was here...Eaglen has a big sound, and some beauty of tone, but the searing emotional commitment and physical identification Behrens made with the character are sorely missed. For a singer who basically had an unattractive sound and numerous technical flaws, Behrens moved me like very few before or since.

I recently gave a friend of mine a copy of Behrens singing Berlioz NUITS D'ETE...not the sort of thing you would think of as being in her sphere. He was very skeptical but reported back after listening to it that she had made a profound impression and that he had discovered aspects of the cycle that had eluded him til he heard Behrens. That, for me, is the mark of a great artist.

#5 Ed Waffle

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Posted 06 April 2004 - 03:22 PM

Oberon, I could not agree more regarding Behrens' dramatic commitment, intense physicality and just straight acting ability. One of the aspects of her Die Walkure Brunnhilde that is often mentioned is the power of her silent response to Wotan during the last part of the Act III as Wotan tells her that she will become a mortal.

Mel, it seems that you had half or more of Parsifal to sit through when you realized you had hit the Wagner wall. As my grandmother used to say, there will be another star on your crown in heaven for your suffering. :blushing:

It has been written before (possibly here, possibly by me) about the person attending Parsifal who fell asleep during Act I, which clocks in at just under two hours--longer than Salome almost as long as La Boheme. When he awoke he glanced at his watch and saw that he had been dozing for about fifteen minutes. The three people on stage seemed to be singing exactly what he had heard when he nodded off and they were in exactly the same positions.

#6 dirac

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Posted 06 April 2004 - 03:34 PM

I'll stand up for Parsifal --I adore every minute (okay, almost every minute). It could be four hours longer and I'd still be a happy camper.

#7 Hans

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Posted 06 April 2004 - 04:23 PM

It was you who wrote that about the person attending Parsifal, Ed, but I enjoyed hearing about it again. I have to say, I doubt I will ever have the courage to take on Wagner (Romantic music in general is not my favorite), but I have the profoundest respect for those who appreciate his work!

#8 Juliet

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Posted 06 April 2004 - 07:01 PM

I agree about Behrens' acting ability (which is why I didn't listen to the broadcast)---one of the most beautiful performances i've ever seen on a stage.

I love Die Walkure and hope to see it this spring--and perhaps entice some hitherto-skittish-about-Wagner friends to join me! I might have to resort to bribery.....

#9 dirac

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Posted 07 April 2004 - 01:31 PM

Well, Die Walkure is traditionally the most popular, and it stands up well on its own, so I'd think it would be a good one to suggest to Wagner neophytes.

#10 Mel Johnson

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Posted 07 April 2004 - 01:39 PM

Yes, but nine-year-old boys should be kept away from complete Parsifals.

#11 Ed Waffle

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Posted 07 April 2004 - 06:58 PM

dirac, I have never been able to relate to Parsifal as a music drama--my loss, since so much of the music is so sublime. Not sure if it is the dominance of low male voices--Siegfried is the Ring opera that I can most easily do without, so it may be that--or the totally over the top religious content. Probably not the last since odd religious imagery is one of Wagner's hallmarks. And certainly not the length. I could (if in a comfortable seat) sit through Tristan and Isolde twice in a day. The same with Die Walkure or Gotterdamerung.

I am so stymied by Parsifal that I can't even figure out why I don't appreciate it.

With Good Friday approaching I am going to load up the CD player and take a trip to the Pyrennes to try again to see what I am missing. :(

#12 oberon

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Posted 08 April 2004 - 03:30 AM

Behrens standing still and listening to/responding to her colleagues was always so moving...her scenes with Wotan got to the very core of their relationship and told us so much about the RING as a whole.

I once saw Behrens as Sieglinde with an untried soprano making her Met debut as Brunnhilde. The woman was not having a good night until the Act III meeting between the two characters. You could see Behrens, by her expressions and her movements, drawing the other soprano into the situation. The Brunnhilde seemed to take Behrens' energy, her interpretation began to soar, and she ended the evening to cheers from the audience. She very graciously bowed to Behrens during the curtain calls.

Behrens & Rysanek remain my twin goddesses...so committed and so transcending mere singing & acting. I was lucky to see them together once, a very thrilling performance.

#13 kfw

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Posted 16 April 2004 - 09:50 AM

I once saw Behrens as Sieglinde with an untried soprano making her Met debut as Brunnhilde. The woman was not having a good night until the Act III meeting between the two characters. You could see Behrens, by her expressions and her movements, drawing the other soprano into the situation. The Brunnhilde seemed to take Behrens' energy, her interpretation began to soar, and she ended the evening to cheers from the audience. She very graciously bowed to Behrens during the curtain calls.

What a beautiful story, Oberon. Thank you.


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