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Wagner: Die Walküre

North & South Magazine, New Zealand
Peter Shaw

No one interested in classical music will be unaware that in July the NZSO is giving concert performances of Wagner’s complete opera Die Walküre. Wellington (July 22), Christchurch (July 25) and Auckland (July 28). It’s a huge undertaking, not least because of its running time of just over five hours.

If you feel daunted by the thought of such a musical marathon, there is hope at hand. Few who ever hear the complete work in performance complain about its length. The opera is broken into three acts with two sizable intervals, one a least long enough to grab a bit to eat. In fact, the experience of hearing a whole Wagner opera is unforgettable.

It is best to prepared, however. As with all operas, they are so much more enjoyable if you’ve done a little bit of homework beforehand. I always pity those poor people whose first acquaintance with such a large work is a quick glance at the plot synopsis moments before the conductor raises his baton. That’s not the way to do it.

If you really want your money’s worth, now is the time to buy a complete four-CD set of Die Walküre – not just excerpts.

The finest currently to hand comes from Australia on the Melba label (MR 301091-94) and features the 2004 production at the Adelaide Festival by the State Opera of South Australia.

The only other set of Die Walküre available as a single opera rather than part of Wagner’s complete Ring cycle is the budget-priced, late-80’s Metropolitan Opera production under James Levine on DG 4779135. It comes without libretto, but that can be easily downloaded.

The Melba production was recorded in super-audio CD (SACD) so the sound is absolutely superb. So, too, is much of the singing. I have listened enthralled to the whole performance a number of times, rarely feeling the need to make comparisons with the possibly starrier cast but much older versions under Solti, Karajan, Böhn et al.

The conductor of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra is the young Israeli Asher Fisch, a Daniel Barenboim protégé and currently with the Seattle Opera, whose Ring, productions are world renowned.