Die Walküre is, and will continue to be, the audience favorite in any complete performance of Der Ring des Nibelungen. Audiences will sit through its interminable, but musically exquisite second act (not the favorite act of Walküre lovers) as long as they get an opportunity to listen to the great stormy prelude that opens the opera, the love duet the closes the first act, the familiar "Ride of the Valkyries" at the beginning of the third, and the poignant "Wotan's Farewell" and "Magic Fire Music" that end the work. It is the opera towards which most people gravitate when it comes to the Ring. Not just because it has some of Wagner's most inspired music, but as a result of having the most human elements in the entire cycle. Die Walküre will tug at your heart strings, nevermind that it also does a good job on your intellect.
I have listened to this years's performance of this work from the Bayreuth Festival twice now, and the first thoughts that come to mind is what an amazing job Christian Thielemann is doing with the orchestra. Right before our ears, he is becoming one of the great Wagnerian conductors of our times. This Ring Cycle is exciting, lush, and it promises wonders by the time that it eventually reaches Götterdämmerung.
The other great surprise is the Sieglinde. I must confess that I had not heard of Adrianne Pieczonka before, but now I want to hear her live. Her Sieglinde was focused and touching, and her pretty, lyrical and secured voice made a great impression on me, Her ovation at the Festspielhaus was deafening.
I have also been very impressed by the quality of voice of Falk Struckmann, an artist that I have seen live at the MET, and consider an accomplished singing actor ( I have seen him a number of times in Alban Berg's Wozzeck.) He does have a tendency to push beyond his limits, though, and sometimes he makes some rather less than beautiful sounds. Also, after a long afternoon of singing, he lost his concentration because unfortunately he temporarily lagged behind the beat right at the beginning of the "Leb' wohl, du kühnes." A shame because the rest of his performance was truly first rate.
Linda Watson got through the role of Brünnhilde, but I can't say that her singing pleased me very much. She has a powerful instrument, and she knows what to do with it when it comes to strength. I do wish that she would control the steely edge that it has and bring out the poetry that the role possesses. Likewise, Endrik Wottrich as Siegmund sounded overwhelmed by the role. He has been singing beyond his talents for a few years now, and I wish he would go back to lighter repertory. He was to have sung the role of Erik at the opening night The Flying Dutchman but was replaced at the last moment by Alfons Eberz. It seems that every time Wottrich cancels, Eberz takes over for him. When Wottrich and director Christoph Schlingensief traded insults, and the tenor swore that he would not sing in the current staging of Parsifal, it was Eberz who replaced him, and who will sing the role again this season.
I am very much looking forward to hear how the rest of this Ring turns out.