Karajan’s Walküre – 50 years on

To quote a quite different opera, “it is a curious story”.  In 1967 a production of Wagner’s Die Walküre, heavily influenced by Herbert von Karajan [1] who conducted the Berlin Philharmonic for the performances, opened the very first Osterfestspiele Salzburg.  50 years later it was “remounted” with Vera and Sonja Nemirova directing.  I use inverted commas because it’s actually not entirely clear how much was old and how much new.  It might be more accurate to describe it as a homage to the earlier version.  In any event, it was recorded, in 4K Ultra HD, no less and released as one of the very first opera discs in that format.


The set designs, originally by Günther Schneider-Siemssen, are certainly drawn from the original production.  The video projections, I would imagine, are new.  The costumes are certainly up[dated to a rather anonymous modern look.  The overall effect is that the production looks quite modern, though quite literal.  Trees are trees.  Swords are swords.  There are even a couple of guys dressed in hairy trousers with horns who carry Fricka’s armchair/chariot around.  And so on but not in an overly realistic way.  The blocking is sufficiently dynamic that one suspects it doesn’t owe much to 1967.  So there it is.  It looks modern but with no big Konzept.  It’s Wagner’s story.  It’s not about resource exploitation or the rise of capitalism.


Musically there’s much to like.  Act 1 is superb.  Anja Harteros and Peter Seiffert are extremely well matched as the twins.  They sing beautifully and the chemistry is terrific. Georg Zeppenfeld is way more than adequate as Hunding and Christian Thielemann gets superbly transparent playing from the Staatskapelle Dresden.  Act 1 of Walküre may be the best stand alone act in all of opera and this is a very compelling account of it.


Act 2 introduces the Wotan of Vitalij Kowaljow and the Brünnhilde of Anja Kampe, plus, of course, Fricka, sung by Christa Mayer.  I really like Kowaljow’s Wotan; solid and majestic but also surprisingly youthful.  Kampe’s Brünnhilde is secure and pleasingly girlish.  Mayer’s Fricka is convincingly self-righteous.  That said, this act does go on a bit.  but it’s redeemed in the last couple of scenes where the interaction between Kampe and Seiffert is very touching.  The production here is a big ring with video projections of text; names mostly.


Act 3 starts with an interesting Ride of the Valkyries.  The ladies are quite statically arranged around the ring but in the middle the heroes scuttle all over the place before appearing to plead for mercy; for all the world looking like the Germans surrendering at Stalingrad.  The orchestra here is terrific.  As throughout, when Harteros appears the intensity goes up a notch.  She is amazing.  Once she’s gone Kowaljow and Kampe are really rather good with a very “daddy’s girl” take on Brünnhilde.  The “magic fire” is very nicely staged.


It probably doesn’t really need emphasizing but the orchestral playing and the pit/stage co-ordination are absolutely first class.  The very transparent playing throughout is well served by the DTS-HD sound and the balance between orchestra and voices is well engineered too. In summary – Wagner, Thielemann, Staatskapelle.


Tiziano Mancini’s video direction is rather good.  He seems to be confident in using the high resolution available to give us wide shots of the huge Grosserfestspiele stage.  The video quality justifies the decision.  I wasn’t getting full benefit of the 4K picture as, although my player is 4K, my screen isn’t.  Still, this was at the top end, or better, of any Blu-ray I’ve watched.  There aren’t any extras though and the booklet has just a short historical explanation of the production plus synopsis and track listing.  Subtitle options are German, English, French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Korean.


So there you have it.  A very decent production of Die Walküre with some brilliant singing and playing backed up by well engineered use of the very latest technology.  Lots to like!

FN1: Karajan, notoriously, thought he knew better than any theatre director how opera should be staged.  See Levine, J.

FN2: I don’t, at present, have the means to “cap” 4K disks so the pictures are taken from various web sources.  I think they give a pretty fair impression of the disk content though.

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