The Kupfer/Barenboim Ring continues very strongly with the second instalment, Die Walküre. It opens in quite a straightforward, more or less realistic way. Hunding’s hall is slightly abstracted with a recognizable tree. It’s quite spare though which creates space for the strong interpersonal dynamics between Siegmund and Sieglinde. Poul Elming is a very physical, almost manic Siegmund and Nadine Secunde’s Sieglinde is almost as physical. It’s all very intense and beautifully sung. Matthias Hölle as Hunding is no slouch either.
In Act 2 we are back in a more abstract, almost empty space. None of the obvious things are physically represented. There’s no chariot, with rams or otherwise, for Fricka just as, in Act 3, there will be no horses. The lack of clutter again seems to help us focus on the drama. The first part of the Act is dominated by John Tomlinson’s amazingly compelling Wotan. It’s never been clearer to me that the Ring is Wotan’s tragedy in the fullest, most classical sense. He’s driven by hubris from one disastrous expedient to another until the whole world comes crashing down about him. There’s no doubt of his centrality in Kupfer’s idea of the piece and it’s very clear in his confrontations with both Fricka and Brünnhilde in this act.
The dramatic tension just gets ratcheted up in Brünnhilde’s interactions with Siegmund. Anne Evans is a wonderful singing actress and really brings Brünnhilde’s conflict between conscience and duty to life aided by equal intensity from Elming. The actual Siegmund/Hunding fight comes almost as an anticlimax.
Act 3 perhaps brings us back closer to the aesthetic of Rheingold with lights and smoke and a gantry for the Valkyries; a remarkably cheerful bunch of corpse collectors. The clutter, such as it is, clears for the big confrontation between Wotan and Brünnhilde which clearly demonstrates the Wotan that Kupfer and Tomlinson have created; a creature of violent mood swings and excessive emotions. It’s good stuff and culminates in a very effective magic Fire Music scene where the lasers and smoke come out again to create a light box for Brünnhilde to sleep in.
It’s clear by this point in the tetralogy that Barenboim and his orchestra are also stars in this production. He manages to convey tension, excitement, exuberance and sheer beauty in equal measure. It’s terrific to listen to with the orchestral interludes as thrilling as any of the singing.
Technical details are the same as for Das Rheingold but there are no extras on this second disk.