lietofinelondon

Stemme Shrinks Then Soars

In BBC Proms, Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on July 29, 2013 at 8:58 am

Review – Götterdämmerung (BBC Proms, Sunday 28 July 2013)

Brünnhilde – Nina Stemme
Siegfried – Andreas Schager
Hagen – Mikhail Petrenko
Gunther – Gerd Grochowski
Gutrune & Third Norn – Anna Samuil
Waltraute & Second Norn – Waltraud Meier
First Norn – Margarita Nekrasova
Alberich – Johannes Martin Kränzle
Woglinde – Aga Mikolaj
Wellgunde – Maria Gortsevskaya
Flosshilde – Anna Lapkovskaja

Royal Opera Chorus
Staatskapelle Berlin

Daniel Barenboim (Conductor)

Nina Stemme performed a magic trick last night – over and above her stunning performance and that of her colleagues.

The Swedish soprano managed to shrink the Royal Albert Hall so that over five thousand people believed that they were alone with her and she was singing just to them.

Astounding.

There aren’t words to adequately describe this performance of Götterdämmerung. Or indeed the entire cycle brought to London by Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin Staatskapelle.

From the opening bars of Das Rheingold, through the drama of Die Walküre and the closing ecstasy of Siegfried to the final Immolation Scene last night, this is a cycle that stands comparison with the greatest. In fact, personally it surpasses all too many of them.

A constant throughout the four nights was the superlative playing of the Berlin Staatskapelle. Never have I heard such precise yet flexible playing. Every note was imbued with colour, every phrase articulated to perfection, every dynamic not only realized but also chased down with unerring precision. And if the drama was played out in front of them, then the players realized the drama themselves. Last night alone I watched as the clarinetists swayed, as the Second Violins dug deeper than ever before as Barenboim urged them to ever grittier playing the Siegfried’s Funeral March, as the brass lit up the entire hall with some of the most accomplished, and assured ensemble and solo playing I have every heard.

Yet at no point did the orchestral overpower the singers. Marshalled to perfection, under Barenboim’s leadership they were the singers’ willing friends, lovers and accomplices throughout. No detail was too small to be brought to the fore, no texture too inconsequential to highlight. Lavish attention was paid to the inner detail of Wagner’s music, no section rushed through or simply played to get to the next tableau. For example the transition to Siegfried’s Rhine Journey was full of the expected panache and arrogance of youth, but the transition back before the incredible confrontation of Stemme and Meier managed to convey the familial gloom that was about to descend.

Rising above the Staatskapelle was a cast of singers that was nothing short of the perfect ensemble.

The Rhinemaidens – Aga Mikolaj, Maria Gortsevskaya and Anna Lapkovskaja – made a welcome return to the stage, delighting with their finely crafted ensemble singing. Margarita Nekrasova’s First Norn alongside her sisters was in possession of a darkly hued voice perfectly suited to the role and her attention to the words was telling.

Johannes Martin Kränzle also returned as Alberich for the dream sequence at the opening of the Second Act. The return of so many of the singers in the same roles delivered in spades in terms of characterisation. Kränzle‘s Alberich of the final opera in the quartet was a Nibelung that had surpassed greed and revenge and had reached desperation.

Anna Samuil improved on her initial outing as Freia as both the Third North and Gutrune. While her voice retained a slightly brittle and brassy tone and ventured a little wayward above the stave, her performance – particularly as she awaited Siegfried’s return – as the tragic Gibichung sister was never anything less than committed. And as her brother, Gerd Grochowski’s Gunther balanced some fine singing with strong acting skills.

What Mikhail Petrenko’s Hagen may have very occasionally lacked in heft he made up for in the malevolence of his characterization. Like Terfel in Die Walküre, Petrenko deployed his stage whisper with chilling effect and combined with his fine ability to sneer through his words, he made his Hagen eminently believable and dislikeable. And ranged alongside him as his cohorts and conspirators, the excellent chorus of the Royal Opera House.

But what a difference a Siegfried can make, and in Andreas Schager I think we finally have a Siegfried of note. Schager is the man who stepped into Barenboim’s Ring when the contracted Siegfried – Lance Ryan – did not turn up.

Lucky for us Schager set his watch correctly.

From the get go this was a Siegfried to be reckoned with. Vocally stunning til the end, Schager was not only technically stunning, but he also possesses a clear, bright tenor voice, burnished and even and – most importantly – able to deliver the broadest dynamic range with any drop in the quality of his singing. From his opening duet with Nina Stemme to his final monologue, Schager was Siegfried and this was only made more pronounced by his excellent acting. This was a Siegfried with swagger, exuberance and more than a little naïve arrogance.

So finally to the two leading ladies.

First, Waltraud Meier. I still remember her Ortrud in Munich and here, both as Waltraute and Second Norn, she once again demonstrated that she is, quite simply, a singer of incredible distinction, experience and authority with a voice that literally shines. And the audience showed their appreciation and veneration for Ms Meier at the end. Waltraute might be a small role but in Waltraud Meier it had both stature and nobility.

And Nina Stemme? Over the course of the cycle – from the exuberance of her opening Hojotoho in Die Walküre to her final Selig grüsst dich dein Weib! – this magnificent soprano took the entire audience on Brünnhilde’s journey from Immortal Warrior to Woman.

Stemme’s performance had everything. Vocally secure throughout, there was a steely sheen and gloss combined with a depth and weight in her voice that carried her both above and through the orchestra. And it was a Brünnhilde of great subtlety. Stemme displayed a stunning control of both dynamic range and colour that was thrilling. Her sense of horror at the end of the First Act was nothing compared to the white-hot rage as she realizes her deception by Siegfried and the resultant blood-curdling trio as she exacts her revenge. And all delivered with such passion, vitality and breadth of colour that the audience collectively held its breath.

But nothing prepared the audience for the final scene. Here the sweep of grandeur of Stemme’s voice, her total commitment, the sense not only of finality, but both justice and love was wrapped up in the most incredible Immolation scene ever heard.

And what a dramatic coup – placing her above the orchestra, above the audience. Amazing.

Her success was evident in the roar of approval from the audience. It was nothing short of any shout than can be heard in any sports stadium.

Finally to Daniel Barenboim. Genius. Simply genius.

Over four nights he brought Wagner’s music to life, painting a succession of scenes in both words and sound that was nothing short of perfection. And his short speech at the end, after all the cheering, was brilliant.

And his clear love of the Ring cycle was evident throughout. Not in the fact that he didn’t always need the score; or that he energetically exhorted the orchestra to dig deeper and deeper into the music; or that he coaxed and directed the singers, shaping their phrases with his gestures.

No. It was in those moments when he stood back against the podium and let the music sing out for itself.

This was a Ring cycle not of note but of history. And to be part of it was more than exhilarating. Or exciting. Or momentous.

It was humbling.

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  1. […] do the cycle justice. The cast were – almost to a man and woman – perfectly cast and of course Nina Stemme left the entire audience in awe at the very end. And marshaling the vocal and orchestral forces […]

  2. […] doesn’t admire and love Waltraud Maier both as singer and actress? Just as her Waltraute for Barenboim, Ms Meier’s Queen demonstrated that this soprano is a seasoned veteran who brings a real […]

  3. […] intense and gratifying journey – both emotional and musical. Indeed, as with her performance as Brunnhilde last year, Ms Stemme captivated the audience and kept them in rapt […]

  4. […] that Nina Stemme as Isolde was singing just for me – something I experienced when I saw her sing Brunnhilde at the Proms – I am sure that her performance of the Irish Princess was as overwhelming for the […]

  5. […] There was literally a musical convergence – an alignment of incredible talent, inspired staging and direction and outstanding music making. And the gravitational force that pulled it all together was Nina Stemme. And she has done this before – at the Proms. […]

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