Programme guide

“I beseech you once again: have the ‘Valkyrie’ performed for yourself, but exclude the public,” Richard Wagner wrote to Ludwig II of Bayern, when the king was having the premiere of the work prepared in the summer of 1870 in Munich. But, as in the previous year, when Das Rheingold was first staged at the Hoftheater in Munich against Wagner’s will, the composer resisted in vain a part of the Ring tetralogy being presented in advance to the public. What Wagner kept secret, however, from his “generous lord and King” was the fact that the first act of the Walküre had already been launched in concert form in 1856 – in Zurich, where Wagner had let a hand-picked audience experience the ill-fated renewed encounter of two children of Wotan in his flat on Zeltweg. Accompanied by an organist from Winterthur at the piano, Emilie Heim sang the part of Sieglinde; the composer himself could be heard in the roles of Siegmund (Sieglinde’s twin brother) and Hunding (Sieglinde’s husband)! The improvised performance was such a success at the time that it was repeated on 22 October in the Zurich hotel Baur au Lac – again for an invited audience, but this time so publicly that the Neue Zürcher Zeitung reported on the “huge work”: “With this symphonic poem Wagner’s reforming aspirations in the territory of the musical drama are manifested by showing a new art form in a perfect manner; his much-maligned ideals of an ‘art work of the future’ were not art-philosophical reveries: they have become action and will be epochal in moving the entire musical world.”

Sir Simon and the Berliner Philharmoniker invited an ensemble of singers experienced in Bayreuth for three pre-Christmas concert performances of the first act of the Walküre. Eva-Maria Westbroeck can be experienced as Sieglinde, the role in which she made her celebrated Bayreuth debut. Simon O’Neill steps into the role of Siegmund; he has sung Parsifal and Lohengrin on the “Green Hill” of Bayreuth. Last but not least John Tomlinson: the singer has gone down in the history of Wagner interpretation with numerous performances in Bayreuth and Berlin, and here lends his jet-black voice to Hunding. The prelude to these Wagner concerts is the Siegfried Idyll – an orchestral meditation on motifs from the third part of the Ring. It premiered on Christmas Day 1870 as a birthday piece for his new bride Cosima.

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