Rescigno Conducts Die Walküreby Wah Keung Chan
/ December 1, 1997
When Maestro Joseph Rescigno became artistic director of
Montreal's Orchestre Métropolitain eighteen months ago, one of his
ambitions was to conduct Act I of Richard Wagner's opera Die
Walküre. On 29 January 1998, Rescigno's dream will come true
when he leads a concert performance starring Linda Roark-Strummer as
Sieglinde, Jon Fredric West as Siegmund, and Edward Russell as
Hunding. Maestro Rescigno spoke to La Scena Musicale about
Die Walküre and the Orchestre Métropolitain's future operatic
LSM: What attracted you to Die Walküre?
JR: As you know, I am the artistic director of the Florentine
Opera in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1992, I conducted Die
Walküre as part of their 60th anniversary celebrations. The
marvellous thing about Wagner's operas is that many single acts can
stand on their own as dramas. Die Walküre can be divided into
two stories: Act I, and Acts II and III. The form and shape of Act I
of Die Walküre is self-contained. Act I of Parsifal
and all of Das Rheingold can also be performed in concert, as
was done by Solti with the Chicago Symphony at Carnegie Hall. From
the audience's viewpoint Die Walküre is a very accessible
work because it doesn't require the kind of preparation or knowledge
that operas like Elektra need. Like Act II of Tristan und
Isolde, Act I of Die Walküre contains some of the most
ecstatic love music ever written. In addition, it is relatively
economical to present: Act I requires only three singers and sets
are not really needed because the drama is psychological. A
Sieglinde soprano is easier to find than a Brünnhilde or Elektra. I
know of two excellent Siegmunds. Unfortunately the best Wotans cost
a lot. We've spent quite a lot on the three soloists even though the
Orchestre Métropolitain's subsidies from the Conseil des arts et des
lettres have been cut twice. If we can sell most of Salle
Wilfrid-Pelletier we'll be comfortable, but if we sell only half the
seats we'll be in trouble. I'm hoping that there are enough people
in Montreal who want to hear this work, which was last conducted
here by Franz-Paul Decker in the 1970s.
LSM: How do you approach the conducting of a Wagner
JR: I conduct Wagner as I would conduct a great symphony, for
example Mahler. The music is tough to play for the orchestra but not
as tough as Elektra. Before studying Die Walküre, I
thought the fugal section after the Ride of the Valkyries (basically
Act 3, Scene 2) would be the most difficult. But in practice I found
that the really difficult moments are the static areas where you
have to maintain the intensity despite slow tempi, for example in
the early part of Act 1, after the storm, in the difficult
monologue, and in the "Todgeweihten" scene between Brünnhilde and
Siegmund in Act 2 Scene 4. In those places the musicians really have
to concentrate. There's a lot of hard writing for the Wagner tubas,
and there is constant danger of sagging because the tempos are
Conducting Wagner is like a math problem, working with the
interrelated tempos and values of the score. For instance, when
Sieglinde sings her first aria, "Der Männer Sippe", she is telling
the story of her wedding and how the sword got in the tree. Midway,
there is a place marked sehr lebhaft when the tempos change.
Most people don't realize how fast that should be. If we choose the
right tempo, then the rest of the act falls into place. Up until
that point, the tempos are loosely interrelated but somewhat
episodic. From that moment on, there is an absolutely strict
relationship. If it is taken at the right tempo ‹ I take it at
double the previous tempo ‹ then when you have Siegmund's next entry
and the end of his little section after that, then one pulse of the
new 9/8 "Wintersturme" tempo, i.e. one dotted quarter, would be
equal to half of the previous measure. Unfortunately what you often
hear today are accelerandi and ritardandi at the seams where two
sections join. In my opinion that is almost the worst place to do
it. When tempos wander from section to section, it gets boring. In
Wagner most of the changes happen in the middle between section
joints because the overall form is so long. To know where these
occur requires immense foresight. Wagner usually has only one or two
climaxes per act. Most conductors get carried away, which is why it
is important to scale these very carefully.
LSM: Where is the climax of Act I?
There is a secondary climax when Siegmund calls out for his
father, "Father, Father ‹ where is my sword?" The second "Father"
has to be longer than the first. That is a big moment, an absolute
primeval cry of this man for his father. The primary climax is when
Siegmund pulls the sword out of the tree ‹ pianissimo! For
me, the emotional climax of the entire opera is not the loudest
point. It is Wotan's farewell towards the very end.
LSM: And the cast?
JR:I've worked with all three singers before. Linda
Roark-Strummer has been singing the Italian repertoire, but I have
encouraged her to try the German repertoire - Wagner and Strauss,
which suits her voice and temperament. Linda sang her first Ariadne
with me in 1990 on a PBS telecast and this will be her first
Sieglinde. Tenor Jon Fredric West, our Siegmund, also used to sing
mainly Italian repertoire, but his career has really opened since he
started to sing German. I hope the soloists will sing without
LSM: Which recordings of Die Walküre do you
JR: Solti is wonderful. I like Leinsdorf's version with Nilsson
as Brünnhilde and Vickers as Siegmund. But I'm not a huge fan of
records. I disapprove of using records to learn music.
LSM: Will Strummer be doing the shriek when Siegmund pulls the
sword out of the tree?
JR: I doubt it. The shriek was not Richard Wagner's idea. It was
introduced at Bayreuth by his grandson Wieland for Leonie Rysanek,
who did it wonderfully. To me the scream should be orgasmic because
it is cathartic. Siegmund taking the sword out of the tree has
obvious phallic symbolism, but it also symbolizes the concept of a
new age. The sword is the weapon of the new man, while the spear is
the weapon of primitive man or the old gods, as in the King Arthur
LSM: What else is on the concert program?
JR: I've decided to make it an all-Wagner concert. We'll open
with the overtures to Die Meistersinger and Der fliegende
Holländer, then do Die Walküre after the
SM: Any future plans for more opera in concert with the
JR: Yes, I'm planning an opera for next season. At this point I
can only say it is Wagnerian in style but with family entertainment.
I love the German repertoire, but I feel that it has been
underserved by both the Opéra de Montréal and the Montreal Symphony
Orchestra, perhaps because it is so difficult to play. It could be
an interesting niche for the Orchestre Métropolitain to fill. In
general, I want to find vocal works that have not been presented
much in Montreal. Wagner's Wesendonk Lieder, Strauss lieder,
Mahler song cycles, and Brahms' Rinaldo are possibilities.
I'm considering the possibility of performing some works by Richard
Strauss with the Orchestre Métropolitain. I don't think
Elektra, Die Frau ohne Schatten, or Capriccio
have been done. The Opéra de Montréal is already planning Strauss'
Salome, which leaves us Elektra, which we could do
with no staging because it basically requires three people. If there
are enough vocal music lovers in Montreal to support us, I'd be
happy to produce one opera in concert each year.