Centennial Ring, Die Walküre, Chéreau / Boulez
Chez Hunding is a mid-19th-century industrial building in less-than-inviting grays. Matti Salminen’s Hunding booms the second he comes on stage. He already made a premature exit in Rheingold, courtesy of Fafner; it’s a shame that his vocal contribution is once more cut short, this time by Wotan. His (Hunding’s) men are with him – minor industrial captains or his managers (just what did you call a ‘manager’ back then?) around Hunding’s ermine-clad industrial baron, all with perfect faces, like period photographs come to life. Hunding, meanwhile, is really not that bad a guy – given that it is his duty to take care of this feckless rival, troublemaker and convention-breaker Wehwalt (Siegmund) who threatens the way of life and public order that Hunding and his like depend on. (Never mind ogling his wife right upon arrival.)
The Chéreau Ring Cycle — Götterdämmerung (September 21, 2005)
The Chéreau Ring Cycle — Siegfried (September 15, 2005)
The Chéreau Ring Cycle — Die Walküre (September 14, 2005)
Patrice Chéreau's New Film at the Mostra (September 8, 2005)
The Chéreau Ring Cycle — Das Rheingold (September 7, 2005)
Boulez Comes Down from the Green Hill for Good (September 5, 2005)
The Chéreau Ring Cycle - The Making of... (September 2, 2005)
Jeanine Altmeyer rises to top form in Scene III of Act II. Because of their looks and physique, Hofmann and Altmeyer don’t require any suspension of disbelief, either. If Hofmann seems a little weak in the high notes (though not terribly so), it is exacerbated by Sieglinde’s vocal excellence and covered up by fine acting. His “Winterstürme, weichet dem Wonnemond” is heart-wrenchingly delivered over beautiful orchestral playing.
Act III shows McIntyre a little on the vocally shy side next to Gwyneth Jones, who doesn’t produce the prettiest sound and varies between very impressive moments and the sound of effort (though not yet strain). Again, watching the opera takes the edge off these possible shortcomings. Subtitles, too, help immensely where the diction is not great in the already hard-to-understand Walküre scenes. Jones certainly looks fairly convincing as Brünnhilde, even if 1980 saw her a few years older than the playful hero-collecting girl in Chéreau’s production would have been. Still, a non-obese Brünnhilde with pleasant features makes this Walküre very pleasant to watch, even if it does not quite match the qualities of Das Rheingold. The orchestral elements under Boulez are above criticism... at least above mine. Even if his is not one’s favorite way of conducting Wagner, the mere quality and drama of it must be acknowledged and convince on some level. To my ears it is among the finest orchestral contributions to The Ring – certainly in modern sound, where I only find the two very different approaches of Barenboim (caring, with attention to detail, broad and muscular) and Sawallisch (self-effacing almost, loving no-nonsense crispness) equally convincing.
Dramatically, “Leb wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind” – Wotan’s last aria in The Ring (before he becomes the “Wanderer”) does indeed become a family affair under the directing hand of Chéreau. With intensely moving (yes, I cried) portrays of Brünnhilde’s frailty and childlikeness that makes her character in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung all the more believable, she and Wotan say their last goodbyes. The curtain falls upon the misty eyes of the viewer and a second installment in the centennial Ring that does not match the first but is convincing and enjoyable all the same.