24 January, 2016

pics: Shelton and Melton

Concert Review: Die Walkure

Jan 23, 2016, CCCH
HKPO - Jaap van Zweden and Soloists
Wagner Die Walkure

My review of the Ring's First Installment - Das Rheingold

This second installment of Wagner's Ring showed improvements over the First, yet was also let down somewhat by the same deficiency, namely Matthias Goerne's under-powered Wotan.

In terms of nuance, Goerne showed considerable sensitivity in emotive passages, such as those to Brunnhilde and Fricka; yet in more prosaic and long-winded passages (admittedly one of Wagner's problems), such as the endless recounting of the past and history of Valhalla, he gave the impression of sight-reading and making-do (he uses a score at all times), thereby not able to help the listener through. Goerne wisely saved his limited firepower for key declamatory moments, but there is no denying that his output barely filled this not very large hall.

A Thought Given my misgivings about Goerne's Wotan in Das Rheingold last year, I was surprised that the recording (Naxos) received general acclaim (see here). As an audiophile and avid consumer of recordings, I know too well the difference between the live act and the recording. IMHO, Goerne would never make a good Wotan on a real operatic stage, but could be good in a recording. Note that he has only sung Wotan in Hong Kong.

Everybody loves the first act of Die Walkure (Wagner at his most amorous, as warm as anything in Tristan und Isolde), and here we got the absolute best. It is hard to imagine a better sung or characterized Siegmund or heldentenor than Stuart Skelton; or a better Sieglinde than Heidi Melton. Skelton effortlessly conveyed vulnerability, naivety, and yearning; Melton, the first cautious, then increasingly effectuated aspects of her character. Both were heroic in their singing, and their sound filled the hall with what Wagner intended, love. Falk Struckmann is obviously a seasoned Hunding.

The second act, particularly the eventful ending, does not favor a concert performance, but even the energy at the start dropped a little. Michelle DeYoung's Fricka was a just a little under-characterized, not quite noble enough. The Brunhilde of Petra Lang was short of vocal opulence, but she made up for it partially with acting and apt pointing. In some ways, she reminds me a little of Hildegarde Behrens, not the most formidably equipped but a great actress.

The third act was the weakest, having to rely on the less than heroic Wotan and Brunhilde. But praise to the great cast of the other Valkyries (Sarah Castle, Karen Foster, Katherine Broderick, Anna Burford, Elaine McKrill, Aurehlia Varak, Okka von der Damerau and Laura Nykanen). But here, Jaap van Zweden's conducting carried the day. The HKPO's playing was a cut above that of last year. Zweden, not at all a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, showed more tenderness than in all of his concert performances I have heard. Overall, the orchestral playing was refined, coherent and fluent. A joy!