Die Walküre

Richard Wagner Die Walküre to libretto by the composer. Directed 2007 by Stéphane Braunschweig at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. Stars Robert Gambill, Mikhail Petrenko, Sir Willard White, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Eva Johansson, Lilli Paasikivi, Joanna Porackova, Elaine McKrill, Julianne Young, Andrea Baker, Erika Sunnegårdh, Heike Grötzinger, Eva Vogel, and Anette Bod. Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker. Stage design by Stéphane Braunschweig; costumes by Thibault Vancraenenbroeck; lighting by Marion Hewlett; directed for TV by Don Kent. Released 2008, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: D+

Eva-Maria Westbroek sings Sieglinde here even better than she does on the great Met version of Die Walküre. White is impressive as Wotan. The rest of the singers are disappointing: Gambill as Siegmund sings well but doesn't look heroic, Mikhail Petrenko vastly overacts as Hunding, and Lilli Paasikivi is unimpressive as Kricka.  That leaves us with Eva Johansson as Brünnhilde, who can't sing without making bug-eyed, exaggerated facial expressions. For proof that this aspect of her performance is purely Eva, see her performance of Elektra recorded a year later where she goes cross-eyed in one scene.

Picture quality and video content are fine. But the deal killer is sound quality. The Berlin Philharmonic played brilliantly and they are well recorded. But throughout this disc, the singers are overwhelmed by the orchestra and sometimes can hardly be heard at reasonable sound levels. This is the worst case of bad sound balance that I can recall.

Director Braunschweig went for modern sets and mostly modern costumes, all of which looks shabby. The Valkyries get traditional costumes, but with cheap-looking full skirts and silly bulging helmets. The most challenging aspect of Braunschweig's directing is the presentation of the Valkyries in Act 3 dragging fresh corpses of modern soldiers up a flight of stairs that rises 25 feet or so to a lone open door. When presented with this set and the "Ride of the Valkyries" motif, anyone informed about World War II in Germany can only think of one thing: Maulthausen and the Todesstiege (the "Stairs of Death"). So Braunschweig turns her Die Walküre into an anti-war statement ala Linda Wertmüller. If you view Wagner this harshly, why bother to stage his work in the first place?

For weakness in singing and acting, shockingly poor balance between the orchestra and singers, and uneveness in directing, I wind up with the low grade of "D+." There are better choices available, so why bother with this one unless you have a special reason?