Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Die Walküre in Paris (take two)

I love this opera and I feel sorry for not having gone to see it more often than just a couple of times during this run at the Paris Opera.  This is a refined production, made by a German, a production which clearly relies on the director's huge life and theater experience.

Ricarda Merbeth, Philippe Jordan, Katarina Dalayman and Thomas Johannes Mayer

I saw the premiere and I managed to score a ticket to see the last show too. Like at the premiere, I was very impressed by the singers/actors: scenically they all seemed to be even more at ease than on the premiere, while vocally  they unleashed their pipes free for the last show. It was a real treat!

I thought Falk Struckmann would be our Wotan for the last show, but no  -- it was again Thomas Johannes Mayer who remains my biggest surprise of this Walküre. He can sustain the same level of singing throughout the whole performance. It's towards the end where he delivers his best, with the voice that remains fresh. His volume is maybe not matching his female costars, but a Wotan with this level of stamina and courage to attack every note at any moment of the show  is a rare gem.  Katarina Dalayman is definitely a smashing Brunnhilde: her voice is fresh, beautiful and powerful and no vibrato. Add to that her unmatchable breathing technique and you can only say:  Katarina rocks! Yesterday, Ricarda Merbeth sang the entire role with such a stunning power and conviction that it will take long time for me to see anyone beat this Sieglinde. I beat in a few years from now she'll be excellent Brunnhilde too. 

Günther Groissböck was again superb vocally (that dark voice is a rarity), and even more scenically. He's an example of what I call the new generation of opera singers: no more nightingales but actors who sing wonderfully and who're able to give the theater new dimension. His strong scenic presence, beautiful musicality and a formidable technique: bravo!
Günther Groissböck

Robert Dean-Smith is not my favorite singer. He usually starts his role by a wonderful singing and then somewhere during the show his power is halved, his high notes are strained, and you feel almost a relief when the show ends. Nothing of that sort happened in this Walkure. Even at the end of this run of 10 shows his Siegmund sounded fresh, his singing was powerful from A to Z, and all of the high notes were beautiful. Kudos to him!

Ricarda Merbeth and Robert Dean-Smith

What about the production? I read quite a number of reviews,  even indulged reading at some forums on what people have to say about the show they've seen and for the most part I was shocked. The mistake of  Günter Krämer is that he assumed the French know something about the 20th century history of Germany. They don't and for the most part they completely misunderstood his statements (especially in Das Rheingold!) I was trying to understand why it is so, and I believe it's cultural: on one pole you have people who still believe that La Resistance was a huge movement in France during the WW2, while on the other pole you have the folks who don't want to have that soup stirred (the same pole who supported the release of Maurice Papon only several years ago). In between you have most of the ordinary folks who either don't know or don't bother to know but prefer to move on...
 Katarina Dalayman and Thomas Johannes Mayer

In Das Rheingold, Krämer did a superb job to define the tragic destiny of Germany prior to WW2. The social movements, awake of the working class, economical crisis made the whole society instable. At the same time,  Germany at the time of Weimar republic was arguably the most intense intellectual ground in the history of mankind: both in sience (either exact or social sciences!) and in culture (across the board). One of its exponent was theater and its famous cabarets, where the brightest performers would send out the most ferocious critiques of the power, denounce the social injustice... through satire, humor and songs (Loge in Das Rheingold, who the French press called vulgar - Sic!).  In such a situation of social upheavals and constant instability, the church was too weak to do its job any more and the ruling class [of Gods] needed something irrational, an idea/project that would involve/embrace everyone and restore order and stability. That, of course, was nationalism. The idea of being special when belonging to one nation worked and the formula is pushed further on by reviving an old project of Germania, which was now supposed to become the capital of the world. That's how Krämer's Rheingold ends: he depicted that point by evoking the images of Leni Riefenstahl and the boys in sport attires who were a symbol of new youthful Germany  [those images that promoted the Stadium of the 1936 Olympics, which was supposed to be the beginning of Germania].  Leni was a genius of propaganda -- in fact, she was a true artist. She invented the whole new aesthetics that --despite all the denials-- was and IS used in  media and in marketing to our days.

The idea of using nationalism to restore order in the society and motivate people to contribute to further enrich the class of Gods, looked perfect and certainly very tempting to anyone who toyed with it (perfect like a ring!), but --as we know-- that idea (the Ring) was cursed.
Ricarda Merbeth

And so Krämer starts Die Walküre with a group of civilians, gathered in a circle (Ring), waiting to be executed. Make no mistake: they are gruesomely massacred by a group of soldiers... lead by Hunding. That sets the transition from the exultation of the end of Das Rheingold to the horrid reality to which the society has evolved.

 Katarina Dalayman

  Thomas Johannes Mayer

 Philippe Jordan

Ricarda Merbeth, Katarina Dalayman and Thomas Johannes Mayer

Excellent Walkuere

will continue later


  1. I wish I had known: we must have been at the same performance. Just arrived back in London...

  2. Hi Mark. Sorry for that! I'm just way too busy these days. It's getting a bit better but it's still hellish. Hope you enjoyed this show. It depends on what one expects from Die Walkure, but to me this show had it all: very good conductor and the orchestra was inspired, more than excellent singers, and the director who perhaps is not inventive but who mounts a show that you'd expect a German director of his age and his experience would stage. You can follow the show superficially and you can look into deeper meaning and it works both ways. Cheers