Berislav Klobucar conducts Metropolitan Opera Orchestra

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Berislav Klobucar conducts Metropolitan Opera Orchestra

Postby Ratimir Mocnaj » Mon Aug 15, 2011 7:56 pm

WAGNER: Die Walküre
Nilsson, Rysanek, Ludwig; Vickers, Stewart, Ridderbusch; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Klobucar. No text or translation. Sony 88697 85308 2 (3)

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Although this 1969 Met broadcast offers luxury casting in every role, the real thrills of this performance under the direction of Croatian conductor Berislav Klobucar (b. 1924) come in each of the duets. It's hard to imagine a better singer from the era in any of the principal parts. (This includes the Hunding of Karl Ridderbusch, sung in such strong, clear and unwavering tones that Sieglinde may well have been tempted to stay home and just have Siegmund on the side.) As good as Leonie Rysanek's Sieglinde is, starting Act I with the weight of the world in her voice yet unusually willing to stand up to Hunding, she gets even more exciting when she trades off phrases with the Siegmund of Jon Vickers. Vickers in turn has a completely different tone of address with the Brünnhilde of Birgit Nilsson in the annunciation scene of Act II. Nilsson, for her part, has a tremendous range of expression in her Act III duet with the Wotan of Thomas Stewart. In our day, when every defendant automatically appeals a guilty verdict, it is truly touching to hear someone accept her punishment with such humility. Klobucar keenly takes the measure of every point/counterpoint stage of this duet. But best of all is the showdown of Stewart and Christa Ludwig's Fricka in their single scene together. So astute is the pacing that we really believe for a time that he will win the argument, just as we believe for a time that Brünnhilde may avert her punishment in her own face-off with Wotan.
Even in such a top-level cast, Stewart's Wotan is something special. Those of us who came of age after this era have never heard such a magisterial performance. On the baritone side of bass-baritone, Stewart's voice has a notably attractive top. In the first third of his Act II monologue, he is so eager to unburden himself to his daughter that the story comes pouring out in anguish. Yet at his arrival on the scene in Act III he is truly terrifying. He then demonstrates with such nobility the things Brünnhilde will lose, and how desirable they were, that the human being emerges. And he is careful to show that the punishment will be exactly the worst that she could imagine for herself. Nilsson's Brünnhilde, of course, was much lauded, but this characterization should not be taken for granted. The amplitude and security of her voice placed her in such great demand that she could have been less conscientious about the score, but she is impeccable in the role. And she is a true vocal actress. Her platinum trumpet doesn't really suit Brünnhilde's frightened entrance in Act III, but she plausibly substitutes panic for pathos. And when she notifies Sieglinde of the child in her womb, she sings with peerlessly brilliant tone. Vickers is captured in fine form; the pianosinging and the soft high notes are not disembodied from the rest of the voice, there is almost no Sprechgesang, and the military precision of the rhythm in "Ein schwert verhiess mir der Vater" is a real insight into the character. Rysanek saves her most vibrant singing for her final peroration, and Ludwig is a true paragon of the way to sing. In a neat coincidence, Gwendolyn Killebrew, the Waltraute in the Götterdämmerung of the Patrice Chéreau–Pierre Boulez Bayreuth Ring, is here nestled among the Valkyries as Waltraute.
Under Klobucar, the 1968 version of the Met orchestra is highly accomplished. Nowadays the brass playing is plusher, less brash, but in this performance it is still remarkably accurate. (An exception is the first appearance of the Valhalla motive, which doesn't go very well at this matinée.) There is more character in the playing of the bass-clarinet solos these days, and today the double basses are more likely to play in tune. But the clarinet and English horn solos are lovely. And Klobucar elicits a beautiful fruity tone from the cellos for the Siegmund–Sieglinde relationship, while pizzicato playing is melodic and resonant. Klobucar's interpretation, plot-driven and urgent, brooks no set pieces. In Act I he drives directly into "Der Männer Sippe," then subtly moves everything ahead until the door bursts open on the spring night. In Act II, the strings work up a swirling cloak of a storm as Wotan sweeps off. The annunciation moves majestically, inexorably, like a beautiful parade float. When Wagner writes for winds alone here, as in "War es so ," the playing has an appropriate pleading quality. There is a tremendous surge at the start of Wotan's final solo, a real moment of action, as if he were almost pleased with the resolution. Klobucar ends the opera in a bewitching "to be continued" manner, like a slow reverse tracking shot at the end of a movie.
Back when the purchase of a recording of Walküre was a substantial investment, this performance would have been a primary recommendation for those who could have only a single version. But back then, of course, the Met didn't make these documents available. This performance, greatly enjoyable on its own, still offers a consistently fascinating comparison to what James Levine has been doing at the Met in our day. Klobucar's uncut Act II is ten minutes shorter than Levine's performances of Act II last spring, and a full fifteen minutes shorter than Levine made it in the recording studio, but it almost never seems rushed. There are a few unfortunate aspects to this historic recording. The best scene, the Fricka–Wotan dialogue, is broken up across two CDs; Rysanek's famous scream in Act I is a misfire on this occasion; two of the Valkyries are off-mike at their entrances; and the sound quality is not great. (1968 was hardly the wax-cylinder era.) But taken on balance, this may well be the best all-around introduction to Die Walküre anyone could imagine.
WILLIAM R. BRAUN


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Ratimir Mocnaj
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