Sunday, July 29, 2007

Der Ring des Nibelungen: Die Walküre

Die Walküre, the First Day of the Ring, was on this evening, a continuation from Das Rheingold from the previous evening.

I started listening from Act II on the Dwójka Polskie Radio this evening. Having accessed the webcast a couple of minutes late after what I supposed what the starting time, I was surprised on hearing the Valhalla leitmotif, which I vaguely recalled its appearance only during the second act. It was only after some time later that I realised that the operacast website had printed the timing for two of the radio stations wrongly. By that time, it didn't make much sense to switch to the other radio station with the delayed broadcast since Act I would have been more than halfway completed.

I thoroughly enjoyed Acts II and III this evening. Albert Dohmen, as Wotan, caught my attention with his confident and powerful delivery. Together with last evening's performance of Das Rheingold, I find that he was adept in bringing out the multifaceted character of Wotan vocally. I was moved by the way his voice shimmers above the orchestra in proclaiming his [sadly temporal] support for Siegmund, and when he was conflicted upon Fricka's chastisement of his notion of love and his ways as a god and husband, his immanent frustration upon killing of Siegmund, and of course, his most intense nostalgia in the closing passages of the last act.

Linda Watson, as Brünnhilde, wasn't as consistent. In the dramatic sections whereby her vocals were supposed to float above the orchestra, she was drowned out by the latter. On the other hand, her rendition of the monologue at the end of Act II Scene 2 was the most beautiful I've heard thus far. In heart-rending passage with such poetic libretto, she brought out conflicting wretchedness in Brünnhilde in the most alluring manner.

And of course, now to the tragic hero, Siegmund, sung by tenor Endrik Wottrich. How I wish the lifespan of his character was lengthened! Such power and intimacy in the same voice! I shall take note of the re-broadcast, and indulge myself in his proclamation of love to Sieglinde in Act I Scene 3. I have no doubts that it'll be superb.

The Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele under Christian Thielemann was strong, as like the last evening, stringing every single unit of the opera together to create the most complete and coherent picture. Come to think of it, they're unrivalled when it comes to Wagnerian repertoire.

Thankfully, there'll be a break of a day before Siegfried will be shown. Being situated in an obscure corner of Mars, the time difference is just horribly different. I shall attempt to compile the available reviews on this entire Bayreuther Festspiele in the next coming few days. Apparently, the opening night wasn't well received with the radically different production by Katharina Wagner. We shall see how it turns out. Right now, I would personally prefer a traditionalist to the throne (all three candidates are, as quoted from A.C. Douglas, unfortunately, supporters of Regietheater and none seemed like conservatives), as I'm still considerably new to Wagner music. Give me a few more years of largely similar traditional productions and it'll difficult to say though...

Darn, I'm more interested in the politics of the Bayreuther Festspiele than the local politics.


Daland said...

Actually the Walhall theme is heard - more than once - also in Act I of Walküre! It goes with the memories of both Sieglinde and Siegmund. And it appears always in E, i.e. 3 semitones above its "natural" Dflat key (can you argue why?)

Congratulations for your interest in Wagner: his dramas are among the main pillars of our culture, together with Dante's Commedia, Goethe's Faust, Cervantes' Quixote and... you name!

solitudex said...

Hi Daland!

So glad to hear from you.

Yes, it does appear in many forms in Act I Scene 3! I was actually listening when Wotan was bringing up the building of the Walhall to Brünnhilde. A troubling passage, not a passage of love! Which is why I deduced it was already in Act II and I had gotten the timing wrong. Sigh...

I shall attempt your question with my pathetic amount of knowledge about Wagner. As for the theme, I would associate it with the sword instead of the memories of both Sieglinde and Siegmund.

Here's my justification, or my attempt at that. The Walhall is a symbolism of the power and protection for the gods. As to that, the sword plays a similar role to Siegmund and Sieglinde, the Volsungs. The nature of the theme is much more to that of power, instead of memories of love or love itself.

As for the Walhall theme in Act I, it seems to have been sounded upon their proclamation of love but at the same time, it has as much chance to be associated with the sword. In the beginning of Act I Scene 3, a mellowed version of the theme is heard before the the first singer, Siegmund comes in. Upon entering, he spoke of the sword first, a vague remembrance of the promise by his father. That is why the theme is sounded in a mellowed tone, producing a very distant effect. Towards the end, it was the discovery of the sword (which too, coincided with the proclamation of love), which Wagner had brought out using the trumpets, with the most of the rest of the orchestra playing tutti to support, with a switch to the major key, to create an exultant atmosphere.

As to why the particular transposition up, I have absolutely no idea. I thought the first note of the theme was from Ab in the key of Db major in Die Rhinegold to C in the key of Amin in the first part of Act I Scene 3 of Die Walküre before the key was switched to the relative major.

Would love to hear your view on this... I have loads more to learn. Pardon my ignorance and do point out any mistakes which I have made.

Yes, wonderful operas with such depths that Wagner has written. I really love them so much and wish I could learn more about them.

Now, back to Act II of Siegfried!! It's on now!

solitudex said...

Oh, Daland, I think I might have gotten the theme mixed up. I can't seem to recall the Walhall theme in Act I. Shame on me, to mix up two of the most important themes, the sword theme and Walhall theme. Would you enlighten me on where it is?

Daland said...

Jeff, yes you have likely mixed-up the Sword and Walhall themes! (but don’t worry, it easily happens with Wagner!)

The Walhall theme is heard in Act I of Walküre in several circumstances:
1. scene II, when Siegmund recalls his early days with Wölfe and precisely the day when he didn’t find his father, but just an empty wolf’s skin (“…den Vater fand ich nicht”); here just the incipit of the theme is played;
2. scene III, when Sieglinde recalls her wedding with Hunding, and the “wanderer” who came into the house to stick the sword into the trunk; here the Walhall theme is played extensively, two times (at the beginning and end of Sieglinde’s memory) but with substantial variations respect the original;
3. scene III, during the “love duet”, precisely on Sieglinde’s words: “Ein Wunder will mich gemahnen…”; and then again, after Sieglinde’s “Deines Auges Gluth erglänzte mir schon…” ; here also the exposition is rather extensive.

In ALL these circumstances the Walhall theme (whose “DNA” is Dflat) is played in E. Why?
Oh, don’t ask me a scientific explanation! And you can yourself guess one.

Here’s mine own though: the twins recall here facts, things and persons of their childhood, right? Now, don’t you agree that we often “oversize” our early experiences? What about 3 semitones?!

Nice to share some Wagner with you!

Bayreuth’s Siegfried: not exempt from stains… but for us at least it was (almost) for free, so let’s be indulgent!

solitudex said...

Yes, Daland. I've found them! Thanks for pointing them out.

Now that I've found them and thought through it, allow me to put forth another explanation. It does seem that those themes allude to Wotan, who called for the construction of the Walhall, instead of Walhall itself. (The libretto doesn't refer to the Walhall in all these cases.) In aethetics, the concept of beauty in the artist's mind is prized even higher than his human physical (imperfect) realisation of that concept. Same thing here, the transposition to a higher key naturally will point towards something higher than that of the Walhall, the creator himself who gave birth to it. As such, I believe it would be sufficient justification of the transition up, instead of retaining the same key or transposing it lower.

Of course, one could simply argue that it's just raised to fit the general tonal structure. I wouldn't refute that as well.

Yes, if I were to prefer a perfect recording, I can whip out my records to listen to Herbert von Karajan's or Solti's, but it's the very live quality here which I value so much.

The orchestra was exceptionally tight in the first act for the production of Siegfried, creating a beautifully woven painting. Gerhard Siegel, as Mime, is my favourite in the opera! The others were great too, though I find Linda Watson's Brünnhilde a little too heavy on her accent and vibrato. I'm finding quite some trouble to follow her. Or maybe it's just my lack of exposure!

Daland said...

Jeff, I find your explanation of the Walhall theme’s exposition in Walküre Act I absolutely relevant and fair! There is no doubt that the theme – here – represents Wotan, not certainly the castle, totally unknown to the twins!

In general, the Walhall theme represents also the “secular side” of Wotan’s power, while the “Speer” theme represents the “moral-ethical side” of that same power (therefore – and applying precisely your “aesthetics” - I prefer to label the latter theme as the “Covenant”).

I share less your remark about the general tonal structure, because Wagner never bents himself to music, but bents music to his artistic ideas. So the E key could also be interpreted as the “stillness” that the father conveyed on the twins… and don’t forget that Walküre will end in that key, traditionally the key of “peace and quiet”.

solitudex said...

You have no idea how glad I am to have this discussion with you, Daland! I have learnt so much!

As regarding the general tonal structure, I totally agree with what you said. But you must have misunderstood me as for the theme specifically, it was just in that key because the passage was in that key by Wagner, as you said, to bring out the "still" atmosphere. If he just intended that, it'll naturally follow that the themes inside are in E, not for any particular reason, but just to bring out the general atmosphere of that section.