First off, I must admit that after Opus Arte's other Die Walkure with Bertrand DeBilly, I wasnt expecting much, especially since that seemed to garner better critical praise than this version. This Haenchen version is, with complete confidence and assurance, exceptionally better and musically the most satisfying Die Walkure I have seen since Barenboims-and this is a hundred times more interesting visually than that one was-and is, of the four Die Walkures I own on DVD-the most intriguing and overall satisying yet, even after repeated viewing. First off, it is not as musically good as the Barenboim-but it comes darn close. Tomlinson is one of, if not the, finest Wotans since Hotter. The Wotan here is John Brocheler. He kind of reminds me of Donald McIntyre, the Wotan with Boulez, they even resemble one another. In the beginning of Act II, he seems to rush his scene with Fricka, overlooking moments others interpret sensually. Despite the uneven stars, he eventually wins you over-though I am unsure how successful it would sound on CD if one were not watching the stage actings. He is fine, though not up to the extraordinary Tomlinson or James Morris\Levine-argueably Tomlinsons' equal.
Fricka is dressed perfectly-She is in all white(after all she is the guardian of marriage-though every production I have seen has her draped in black, Though this white outfit goes to the heart of her character which is steeped in irony and adheres to the technical aspects of marriage rather than the subjective.
It was nice to see Nadine Secunde here as Sieglinde(she was the fine Sieglinde in Barenboims Die Walkure) and is in just as fine a voice-though deeper which suits the role even better. There was only one or two moments where she seemed strained. I have never forgotten her dramatic cry, the most emotional satifying I have still ever seen, from the Barenboim Walkure(before she runs off to the forest). Fortunetly, the Siegmunde of John Keyes is a much better singer and an equal actor than her earlier partner with Barenboim-Keyes' Walse cry is incredible for its control-even with a slower tempi-his wintersturme is emotionally riveting-he is the finest aspect of this production and someone I will definetly keep on eye out for in future Wagner productions. Kurt Rydll is a good Hunding, always satifying if not sometimes flat. Jeanne Altmeyer returns as Brunnhilde-she was the Brunnhilde on the first digital ring conductor by M.Janowski. Though that performance wasnt too highly regarded among critics, I havent found too many people who didnt like it in the real world. Here, she proves much better than her DVD compatriots(Brunnhilde has been too kindly resurrected on DVD-Hildegard Behrens is horris and well past her prime-Deborah polaski is Deborah Polaski and as about as bad a Brunnhilde as a professional can hear(at least on the DeBilly set-G.Jones was decent but-really the only truly successful Brunnhilde on DVD is Anne Evans with Barenboim and though she is no powerhouse is the Nilsson or Varnay manner, she turns in one hell of a performance. Altmeyer is in the Evans league, and much better than those aforementioned.
Another treat is the orchestra, literally in the middle of the action being seated on the stage surrounded by the characters and set. Haenchen was another new name to me, but if this is any indication of his talent, and how could Wagner not be, he is a name to keep an eye on. He is in total control and delivered a very nuanced and detailed performance. The first act is always a good test because the orchestra is usually deligated to an exclamatory role till the final wintersturme aria. Really from the opening storm he and the Netherlands orchestra play terrifically and with complete competency and control of his idiom. Though not quite up to the standard of Bayreuth but really no one is in Wagner-not even the VPO-but not once, not even once, did I want for a better orchestra or conductor and was always eager to hear more.
To summarize; with Levine, Barenboim, Muti, Pappano, Boulez, and DeBilly on the market-I would recommend this as a strong first choice and even a stronger recommendation to seasoned Wagnerians-even those who are tradionalists since this will satify both them and those seeking new ways to enjoy Wagner. There is nothing here to offend and so much that is intriguing and original.
The stars here are Haenchen(conductor, John Keyes as Siegmunde, and to an extent Brocheler as Wotan, Fricka, and Jeannie Altmeyer.) Despite several misgivings-I cant wait to see all three and would still highly recommend this version. What else can one ask for these days in Wagner