Wagner highlights fail to take flight

A disappointing combination of a fine voice and great source material.

Composer: Wagner

Repertoire: Scenes from Die Walküre, Die Meistersinger, Lohengrin, Parsifal
and Tannhäuser 

Artists: René Pape
Rating: 3/5

Genre: Opera

Label: Deutsche Grammophon 4776617

The Music: These monologues and duets showcasing the bass voice are plucked from the ‘big’ Wagner operas. There’s the moment Wotan pivotally exits the Ring cycle; Hans Sachs’s salient pause for introspection in The Mastersingers; Gurnemanz’s realisation that Parsifal is the long-awaited redeemer and Wolfram’s ‘evening star’ aria from Tannhäuser. Big, deep, long vocal lines draped over a rich, detailed and powerful orchestra. 

The Performance: Some serious reservations here, I’m afraid, not least the fact that while René Pape has the range and power of a fine Wagner singer, his voice is without any sense of Wagnerian glint and gleam. It simply isn’t elastic enough, in terms of both stylistic and character portrayal. In the booklet he talks of the importance of enunciation – fair enough – but his over-fussy manner with placing double consonants is unnecessary on a well-engineered studio recording and quickly becomes irritating. Only when the orchestra gets into its stride under Barenboim – equally so the hair-raising chorus – do you feel you’re getting enough bang for your Wagnerian buck. 

The Verdict: Though you can sense the inherent riches of Pape’s voice, this feels more like a lecture-recital than an engaging representation of Wagner’s art. And if you don’t know your opera you’ll be all at sea – none of the scenes are put into context or explained in a programme note.

Want More? If you’re after a big, orchestral Wagner recital from an up-and-coming singer, try Simon O’Neil’s Father and Son on EMI (457 8172).