Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Haitink's Götterdämmerung

EMI has, individually*, strangely enough, re-released Bernard Haitink's Ring cycle. Knowing the dicey reputation, and coming to really like Götterdämmerung on a lot of levels (despite the dramatic problems), I bought the final music-drama. No need, then, to waste a lot of money on a set that has been bested. This set is, more or less, Levine's Ring with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks (BRSO, for convenience) instead of the MET forces. There are some casting differences, some major and some minor, but the feel is essentially the same. Siegfried Jerusalem sings his eponymous role, as opposed to the utterly unsuited Reiner Goldberg, who sings Siegmund (a minor improvement). John Tomlinson, and I'll get back to this, sings Hagen - and this is a major benefit to Götterdämmerung. Still, it's EMI's attempt to get a Ring out to compete with Decca, Teldec, and Deutsche Grammophon.

Haitink has occasional moments of brilliance (his RCO Mahler 3rd from the 1970s), but is best known as a solid, solidly quotidian conductor. His Ring isn't much different. He follows Wagner's directions to the letter, and plays all the notes when they're supposed to be played. Nothing inspiring, and the BRSO is good-enough to be interesting, even if they aren't one of the great Wagner orchestras. Even within Germany. This set, especially Götterdämmerung, though I've auditioned the other ones, is just that: good-enough. It's a rehash of Levine, except for the profoundly boring James Morris, and Haitink is good-enough not to ruin things. In fact, if you have Solti or are acquiring Keilberth, there really isn't much sense buying Levine or Haitink, unless you really need super-modern sound or there's a singer there you like (see below).

There are some odd bits of luxury casting and one decision that makes no sense. At all. First, Anne Sofie von Otter and Jane Eaglen are Norns (2d/3d respectively). Yes. You heard right. Von Otter and Eaglen are Norns. Eva Marton is a bit weak for Brünnhilde, and Jane Eaglen is a Norn. Good one, EMI. Good one. To be fair, Altmeyer showed that Nilsson is one option, the less-ringing sopranos can be a bit more human and real. If that's what you want. Thomas Hampson is Gunther. No comment necessary. Bad call.

I like Hagen. He might be the most traditionally interesting character in Wagner's whole Tetralogy. Wotan probably wins the overall interesting-character award, but - remember - he stands with the protagonists of the Greek dramatists. Nothing traditional about that, especially seeing the 1876 date of the Götterdämmerung première. Hagen, on the other hand, is a nasty sort who schemes and manipulates to further the business of the family firm, so to speak. He is profoundly aware of his faults and handicaps, and - rather than attempting to overcome them (premature age and wan appearance, among them) - he embraces them. He wants revenge, not to be better. He is who he is, and the audience is fully aware that he's tricking Siegfried down the line. He's interesting, if nothing else, in a way that Siegfried and the rest aren't. It was Wagner's brilliance to make Wotan (primus inter pares), Alberich, and Hagen interesting; it was his error (of sorts) to keep Siegfried as the center of the cycle, even when Wotan had become a new Oedipus, a new Xerxes (Cf. hoi Persai).

John Tomlinson is, perhaps, my favorite Wagnerian bass of modernity. His Wotan from the Barenboim Ring is, perhaps, marred by the injuries to taste inflicted upon him by Harry Kupfer, my favorite and my reason for preferring him. There is a force and a power to his voice that are astounding. He has a voice ranging from a warm tone, to a bass as black as Frick, Ridderbusch, or Salminen. Good range, and he can act: necessary for a music-drama. His Hagen for Haitink is a redeeming virtue to an otherwise middle-of-the-road set.


*Don't believe me?

5 Comments:

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