An absolute triumph for conductor Lothar Zagorsek and the Staatsorchester Stuttgart, as well as for producer Andreas Priemer, this live recording of Wagner's Götterdämmerung is a huge disappointment in nearly every other way. Zagorsek had previously made many impressive opera recordings for Decca's Entarte Musik series, but his views on the central Romantic repertoire had heretofore not been documented. Judging from this Götterdämmerung, Zagorsek is both a commanding and challenging Wagner conductor. He clearly knows the score, knows how to sustain a long line and build a shattering climax, knows how to balance the rich textures and shape the lush sonorities, knows how to keep the tempo moving relentlessly toward the final cadence so that the tension never flags. Better yet, Zagorsek's performances contest Wagnerian traditions. His interpretation here is clean, driven, and dramatic with a minimum of sentimentality and a maximum of tragedy. With the expert and dedicated playing of the Staatsorchester Stuttgart and the startlingly immediate recording of producer Priemer, Zagorsek's Götterdämmerung is well worth hearing by anyone who loves Wagner.
Aside from that, however, this Götterdämmerung is a huge disappointment. The audience noise is terrible: in the quiet passages, one can hear every cough and wheeze. The stage noise is more terrible: every clattering, rattling sound is reproduced with stunning fidelity. The scenery chewing is even more terrible: listen to Siegfried moan and groan through his death scene or Gutrune weep and whimper through her reaction to Siegfried's death. The singing of the principals is worse yet: Albert Bonnema is a weak Siegfried, Hernan Iturralde is a sulky Gunther, Eva-Maria Westbroek is a sniveling Gutrune, Roland Bracht is a sneering Hagen, and Franz-Josef Kapellmann is a caricature Alberich. But Luana DeVol's Brünnhilde is worst of all. With her strident tone, her wobbly intonation, her huge vibrato, and her hysterical delivery, DeVol's Brünnhilde is painful to listen to. But when at the end of Act III all the principals are at last dead, Zagorsek and the Staatsorchester take wing and their coda is gloriously beautiful and tremendously affecting.