Waltraud Meier (center) with Evelyn Herlitzius, Alan Held, Jane Henschel, René Pape and the Valkyries. At this point Plácido Domingo is still having dinner....
Die Walküre. Concert performance. Teatro Liceu, Barcelona. May 31th 2008.
Cast: Plàcido Domingo (Siegmund), Waltraud Meier (Sieglinde), Renè Pape (Hunding), Alan Held (Wotan), Evelyn Herlitzius (Brünnhilde), Jane Henschel (Fricka). Cond: Sebastian Weigle. Further information here.
Scheduled as a concert performance, this was in fact a semi-staged performance: Three (or more) chairs placed on the stage in front of a brown screen. With the orchestra in the pit and the singers moving and acting as in a fully staged performance, the difference between this and a "modern" stage production may have been very small indeed..
The beautifully restored Liceu Opera House, of course was packed. The atmosphere was electric. None of the protagonists had cancelled. The performance was marvellous. The drinks were cheap. The auditorium was fantastic, being perhaps the most beautiful traditional opera house I have been in. What more can you ask for, except cheaper tickets?
Well, mainly a better conducted performance. Sebastian Weigle was actually booed by some at the end of the evening, and while I strongly disagree with this type of behaviour, I appreciate the underlying point: He was not good. This was in fact one of the most boringly conducted Wagner performances, I´ve heard in a theatre of this level. And a pity, really, since the quality of the orchestra seems to be rather high. And especially since his sleepwalking Wagner reading prevented the first act to be truly electric, despite fabulous performances from the singers. He was equally boring last year in the Bayreuth Meistersinger, which I then attributed to his unfamiliarity with the special covered pit...
This was in theory a complete performance of Die Walküre, but in reality the performance was built upon a dream-team Act 1, as I don't expect anyone payed the steep 150+ Euro ticket prices (my only real complaint about this performance apart from the conductor) to see Alan Held (who was in fact a very fine Wotan) or Evelyn Herlitzius´ lively Brünnhilde, once again demonstrating that huge sounds may be produced by slim singers. Otherwise Jane Henschel was a fine Fricka.
Now, to the point: Why does Plàcido Domingo keep singing Siegmund at 67+ years? The simple answer: I suppose, because nobody does it as well as he does...
If singing Siegmund was a competition on generating the loudest sound or displaying the freshest voice, he would perhaps be pressed by some his younger colleagues. But then there is the characterization, the vocal drama, the intensity. In fact, the only one beating Plàcido Domingo's Siegmund today, is his own Siegmund 15 years ago..
In this respect, it is incomprehensible that we do not have his Siegmund (preferably with Waltraud Meier's Sieglinde) on disc or DVD from his prime, but hopefully this will change..
I have now heard Plàcido Domingo as Siegmund four times within the last year, and he seemed in equally fine shape here in Barcelona as he was in London last autumn, with a Wälse cry (almost) effortlessly filling the auditorium and a thrilling dramatic intensity including superb chemistry with Waltraud Meier.
And again, no: Domingo's German diction is not bad. He has, in fact, excellent diction of a heavily accented German, of which I understood anything. How many times have I not heard native German tenors sing Siegmund and not being able to understand a word? Countless. Next to Renè Pape, who probably has the most perfect German diction seen on stage today, German speakers (as myself) probably cannot help occasionally noticing his somewhat strange German. But more as a curiosity than anything flawing his performance, in my opinion.
Should he stop singing the part, just because he was better 15 years ago? I don`t think so. If several significantly better singers were around, then maybe...
Plácido Domingo curiously only turned up at the second Third Act curtain call (thus missing the first), which I´ve been told was due to him having dinner outside the Theatre during Act 3 and simply not hearing the cell phone call for him to return!
Nevertheless, Plàcido Domingo was not the best singer of the evening. That was Renè Pape.
You don't need a beautiful voice to sing Hunding - most basses just yell their way (and quite effectively) through it. But it does help and it's refreshing for once, to hear all the words sung in full noble Wotan-type voice with complete command of the stage. But completely, 100% mean, he just cannot be with that beautiful voice...And, while he has the low notes well within his grasp, they are clearly outside his comfort zone. Which is just fine, since Renè Pape has really moved on from this part, and with his upcoming Wotan (about time!), I suspect his Metropolitan Opera performances of Hunding next season will be among his last ones, for the foreseeable future.
Had Richard Wagner been alive today, one of the singers that would have made him really happy (he would probably have tried to have an affair with her as well!) would have been the superb Waltraud Meier. In superb voice, completely unstrained, Sieglinde remains one of her most moving portraits. She has everything this part asks for: The vulnerability, the passion, the slight madness, the capability of going over the edge..And as always with Waltraud Meier, I know perfectly well what her vocal flaws are, I just don´t care about them..
And finally, to the really important issues:
Plàcido Domingo looked fine. Renè Pape looked great. Waltraud Meier looked..well, as much as I hate to say it: Disappointingly plain. She was wearing the same type flowery dress, as last year in the same team's Munich Walkure, and it just makes her look unsophisticated, which is the last thing she is, being one of the most beautiful and sophisticated women on stage today. Hopefully, she'll take the opportunity to change it before this summer's Walküre performances with Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra...
Other reviews in Spanish/Catalán from Barcelona-based bloggers GTL torn T and In fernem Land.