Saturday 15 November 2008

DVD: Rattle Walküre from Aix

Die Walküre. Aix-en-Provence 2007. Production: Stéphane Braunschweig. Cast: Eva Johansson (Brünnhilde), Robert Gambill (Siegmund), Eva-Maria Westbroek (Sieglinde), Sir Willard White (Wotan), Lilli Paasikivi (Fricka). Conductor: Sir Simon Rattle with the Berlin Philharmonics.

Stéphane Braunschweig´s Walküre may perhaps best be described as Wotan´s human test tube, conceptually rather similar to Claus Guth´s recent Walküre in Hamburg but executed with an additional touch of aesthetic psychoanalysis.
A postmodern Freudian test tube with the characters moving in confined, virtually bare and closed Freudian spaces limited by elegant geometrical lines, symbol-laden steps and with stunning light effects applied. A very beautiful production allowing for focus on the music without losing scope of the drama on stage.

Robert Gambill both looks and acts the part as the weary Siegmund, but struggles with actually singing it. Eva-Maria Westbroek is simply superb as Sieglinde and is probably the finest jugendlich-dramatische soprano of today. Mikhail Petrenko looks like a second-rate Russian mobster with ditto authority as Hunding. Sir Willard White is dramatically, if not at all times vocally, superb. If Eva Johansson manages to control her quavering notes under pressure and her tendency to neurotic acting she will be a great Brünnhilde. Lilli Paasikivi was furthermore fine as Fricka.

Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonics were simply splendid in what will be Sir Simon´s first Ring Cycle in 2010. Slow tempi, poignant string and brass sections with plenty of energy and tension. I´ve previously considered Sir Simon Rattle more proficient in the non-conducting areas of his job (communication, programming etc) than in actually making the music. That he is such a fine Wagnerian conductor is the surprise of the year, so far. At least to me.

The complete televised performance on which this DVD is based is now available for free viewing at YouTube.

This is a review of the DVD release, also available on bluray.

Eva-Maria Westbroek and Robert Gambill from Act 1:

Ride of the Valkyries:

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Sir Willard White: 4
Eva Johansson: 4
Eva-Maria Westbroek: 5
Mikhail Petrenko: 3-4
Lilli Paasikivi: 4-5
Robert Gambill: 3

Stephane Braunschweig´s production: 4

Sir Simon Rattle: 5

Overall impression: 4


Anonymous said...

I watched this whole performance on youtube - it was one of the best Walküres I've heard. Westbroek is a perfect Sieglinde - she's now in my top 4, among Waltraud Meier, Jeannine Altmeyer and Evelyn Herlitzius.
And I loved this Siegmund! His voice, his appearance, everything. Ok, he won't beat Peter Hoffmann, who's my dream Siegmund, but he's a close second.
Hunding: Petrenko is a psychopath. Really. And it was strange to see a Hunding who's slim and shaven. No, he doesn't have a Salminen's or a Walter Fink's brutal voice, but he gave me chills. He's a silent murderer type.
Fricka was great. I am lucky - I always hear great Frickas. Hanna Schwartz, Christa Ludwig, Judith Németh and now her.
Wotan: White's voice is like dark chocolate and he has the authority of a real God. The only thing I missed a little was Wotan's weak, tormented, human side. He was majestic even in his fall. I prefer humanly Wotans as McIntyre or Titus, but White is superb, too.
Johansson: has the voice, has the appearence (thank God, a slim Brünnhilde!), maybe she has some sharper notes sometimes, but it goes. She makes weird faces, but it's understandable - opera singing doesn't like close-ups.

So I adored this Walküre. The direction was normal and simple - nothing idiotic. I like this cleared down type of direction.

Anonymous said...

Poor production... Awful singing (Gambill-this man earns money as a SINGER ????-, White, Petrenko)...

Only for Westbroek's and BPO's addicts...

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry if I appear not to play the game by the rules, or whatever, but I feel that I have to say what has been on my mind since I read NV's appreciation above.
As a professional singer, and as a Frenchman well acquainted with French afiiconados' usual lack of nuance (to say the least), I believe that such comments as "this man earns money as a SINGER ????" regarding a capable, renowned professional, should be avoided.
I am struck by the violence of that expression - sorry if that sounds like over-reacting, I'm just stating what I feel.
My belief is that the overall tone of clever, competent, insightful conversation about res lyrica prominent on this blog (not least ny Mostly herself), which makes it a very pleasant place to come to indeed , should never be contaminated by such inproper comments.
I must add that I have never met Mr Gambill.
[ Désolé, NV, je trouve l'expression que vous employez tout à fait inadmissible et blessante, y compris pour un simple collègue comme moi ]

Anonymous said...

I am sorry but Robert Gambill spoiled my Rhinegold in Aix in 2006 by his terrible voice in the role of Loge. His Siegmund is impossible. His scratchy and bland voice is the reason to stay away from the Glyndebourne production of Tristan even if, like me, - sorry, mostly opera – you like Stemme’s cold and impressive interpretation of Isolde. Maybe I am not a professionnal, but I am old enough to know that, like war -and politics-, music is something too important to be left to professionnals, who have their own interests to protect. 35 years of going to opera theaters and listening to operas are maybe credentials to give an opinion, but I don’t even think we have to produce credentials. Anyway I give my money, my time and my feelings to music in general and opera in particular, professionnals can live and feed their family because there are still people like me – it won’t last- and when I am disappointed, I don’t see why I would have to pay respects to the causes of my disappointment.

And I really THINK that this guy should get an other job. The fact that he is respected or renowned in professionnal circles could have induced me to look twice before maintaining my opinion, but in this case, I’ve already looked twice. Maybe he is not the worse singer on the market, but the difference between what he is supposed –Tristan, Siegmund…- to sing and the way he does it is for me too hard to bear. Nuances are good where there are need of nuances. But I have no nuanced opinions about M. Gambill. I am not sure that the french are the only one to be strong in expressing their opinions (Ms Fleming never got insulted in France the way she was Italy…) but I don’t think it is so strong a disadvantage. If professionals like you prefer to perform in front of incompetent, dispassionate and polite audiences…

Of course I think you are overreacting – the word « contaminating » is particularly insulting- but the problem is that I don’t even understand your overreaction. As everybody here, I express personal points of view, and I don’t think others should refrain expressing theirs, even when they strongly differ from mine. If our hostess think that everybody should wrap his opinions in multiple layers of political and artistical correctness, let her say it.

Anonymous said...

My point, NV, was:

1) that I, as a singer, feel personnaly hurt by the expression "Mr X. should no longer earn money as a singer /get another job", although of course you are not referring to me.
One may dislike strongly someone's singing, interpretation, or whatever, and yet express it in a less violent, more articulate way.

2) I have not read, as yet, such vocabulary in the various posts/comments on this blog. I would strongly resent it, should this well-kept and pleasant blog become like many an opera-buff-sites, full of un-nuanced opinions, expressed in such a harsh way.

Anonymous said...

From now on, we can only repeat ourselves. I propose to stop "contaminating" this place with our personal feud.

Bogda said...

I've seen the production this year in Salzburg, and my biggest disappointment of the night was Robert Gambill as Siegmund. In theater he sounded even worse than on this recording. He just does not have the voice for Siegmund. Next to Westbroek, which is absolutely magnificant, he's barly audible.

A very pleasant surprise was Eva Johansson. Not that her singing was exceptional, but that she's improved a lot. I've heard her several months before in the Viennese production of die Walkure, where she was definately not the most impresive Brunnhilde. Let's see next week how she does, when she's supposed to sing Brunnhilde in the new Viennese production of the Gotterdammerung.

Anonymous said...

I haven't been listening to much Wagner for several years and hadn't heard of Robert Gambill. I bought the Blu-ray, the quality of which is phenomenal by the way, and found his Siegmund almost unbearable. The way he attacks the notes...a form of scooping I quite distressing to listen to.

But the Sieglinde is quite superb, one of the best I've heard. She really brings out the radiance in the first act.

As someone else mentioned, close-ups in opera are often not a good idea, especially in HD!

christian_g said...

My first post, so apologies if I seem to be repeating what others have said – probably more eloquently than I !
What a find is this blog! Haven’t come across it before, but will certainly keep abreast from now on.
On this Walkure, I have recently bought and seen the DVD and agree with much said here.
Sieglinde and Fricka are stunning. New names to me, but ones I hope will keep appearing in the future.
Brunnhilde – the problem here is what it always is : to get a singer who looks and acts the part convincingly and yet has the role in her voice. I should say ‘voices’, as, apart from the opening Act II sequence the role calls for a darker voice type than the Siegfried Brunnhilde. In Gotterdammerung the problem is even more tricky. I think Johansson looks and acts the part, but the voice is too light for me, and appears to be under some stress at times. I would have liked to see the roles of Sieglinde and Brunnhilde reversed
I found White’s assumption of Wotan fascinating. A rich voice, it does develop a beat under pressure, (but then so did Hotter!) but that is of no account for me. I have always felt that Wotan above all the other characters, is a selfish egotist, who cannot be persuaded to see that his actions are the cause of all his troubles. Even when he does try to put things right, he gets it terribly wrong!
At the beginning – well before Rhinegold opens – the downfall has begun. Cutting a branch from the World Ash tree to make his spear has begun the gradual withering that will eventually destroy it
Wotan’s anger at being disobeyed, his love of Brunnhilde, his contempt of Hunding (and Fricka!), and his frustration at not being what he’d always thought he was - master of his (and the world’s) destiny - are all brought out in this interesting production, which is sparse, almost antiseptic, and does not interfere with the drama. Difficult to say how well the overall concept does, without seeing the other operas in the cycle.
Hunding is here portrayed much more to my taste than many. He’s usually shown as an ageing overweight thug, intellectually challenged and not very interesting, dramatically. Here we have a Hunding who is closer to Sieglinde’s age, with a real ‘agenda’. I liked him a lot! A somewhat lighter-voiced Hunding than often, Petrenko produces the required chill factor – as has been mentioned elsewhere. Opera singers, as a rule, are not shown at their best, when in full blast, in close-up. This is a perennial dichotomy for video directors, and only sometimes resolved. The wet lipped look of Petrenko, however, does add to the chill in head shots on this DVD !
Now we come to Siegmund. Oh dear! It appears on this blog that this role has given rise to some quite vociferous argument! I had heard a wide variety of opinion about Gambill before hearing the voice itself, so it was with a certain trepidation that I watched the beginning of Act 1.
A sappy voice, vigorous and virile. Not, I suspect, one of the world’s great singing actors, but within the confines of this production he slots in well. Unfortunately the voice comes under stress, in the form of a distinct beat on high notes, far too often for comfort. Strange really, for this role is quite low in the Wagner Tenor ‘fach’. (Windgassen didn’t like it - for that reason, I suspect). Also Gambill started out as a high baritone, so the part should hold no terrors, especially as he seems to have sung the much more terrifying role of Tristan. Also, he does seem to attack notes from a variety of directions – not always the right one ….
There are, I contend, two kinds of Siegmund : the fluid and the strenuous. The former does not imply a lack of power and the latter does not imply a lack of lyricism. It’s just the base voice type I mean. Examples of the former might include Walter Widdop, Jon Vickers, Robert Dean Smith and of the latter Max Lorenz and Siegfried Jerusalem. Gambill is certainly not among the former and alas the strenuous becomes all too often ‘stressful’ – which ain’t the same thing at all. As far as I’m concerned the jury is still out. I want to hear more before condemning the poor fellow.
Rattle clearly has the piece under his belt, though maybe not yet in his heart. The BPO play, as ever, gloriously throughout.
All in all, an interesting experience and I shall return to it – though not as often as the Boulez or Barenboim versions.

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