Lyrical Walküre

The thing that struck me most about the Royal Opera House’s 2018 recording of Wagner’s Die Walküre is how lyrical it is.  It’s not without excitement in the appropriate places, far from it, but there’s such lovely singing.  Nina Stemme’s Brünnhilde is tender and poetic and the combo of Stuart Skelton and Emily Magee as the twin lovers is really good.  Throw in a nuanced Wotan from John Lundgren and a typically elegant performance from Sarah Connolly as Fricka and it’s really a pleasure to listen to.  Ain Anger is not so lyrical as Hunding but it’s a fine menacing performance.  Antonio Pappano and the house orchestra are equally fine.

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The three countertenors

Handel’s Giulio Cesare presents an interesting casting challenge.  The piece has four high voiced male roles; Cesare, Nireno, Tolomeo and Sesto.  The original production featured three castrati and a soprano en travesti.  I have never seen Sesto cast as other than a trouser role and Nireno and Tolomeo are invariably sung by countertenors.  Cesare himself though seems mostly to go to low mezzo/contralto types.  Indeed it’s seen, I think, as something of a “plum” trouser role.  (Which is interesting as in the production that i will get to describing in a minute, Cesare wears plum trousers).  I’ve seen both Ewa Podleś and Sarah Connolly in the role.  For their 2005 production Royal Danish Opera cast Andreas Scholl as Cesare.  It’s a good choice.  He’s a masculine looking and sounding counter tenor and at least he is taller than his Cleopatra.  It also makes for an interesting set of countertenors.  Tolomeo is sung by the much less masculine Christopher Robson and Nireno by the “more a male soprano than a countertenor” Michael Maniaci.  Sesto goes, conventionally enough, to Tuva Semmingsen, who seems very much to specialize in these types of role.  Apart from the countertenors the piece was cast from the considerable resources of the RDO ensemble with Inger Dam-Jensen as Cleopatra, Randi Stene as Cornelia, John Lundgren as Curio and Palle Knudsen as Achilla.

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