Having been a little underwhelmed by Das Rheingold, I really loved Die Walkure – the second opera in the Melbourne Ring cycle. It may well be, as Heath Lees suggested in our morning lecture, that this is the best opera in the cycle and possibly the best opera of all time! In any event it was a wonderful show. From our place in the lofty heights, we were able to see quite comfortably (unlike Das Rheingold) the scenes depicted here.
I loved the stage settings. Hundings simple forest cottage, cleverly opened out on one side on one of its many silent revolves, sat in the middle of a bare stage. This was followed by a plain white spiral staircase. Also revolving. A friend was reminded of modern car park but which I thought served as an effective platform for the subsequent action. I loved the snow falling on the cottage to accompany the surging storm music. Later to be replaced by softly falling green leaves when spring finally enters into the lives of our two star crossed lovers. Siegmund was beautifully sung by Stuart Skelton who performed the same role in the second Adelaide Ring. Not that I’d have recognized him! Great power when needed. His Walse…Walse was thrilling and went on .. and on..and on.. Seiglinde (Miriam Gordon-Stewart) was also great. Suitable cowed in Hunding’s presence, prim and proper with hair tightly bound. Later full of passionate intensity, hair tumbling down. Both singing and acting pitch perfect. Hunding was fine. Dark and menacing as he’s meant to be. The sword scene handled nicely. I liked Seiglinde standing behind Seigmund as he pulled it up from the stage (instead of a tree trunk). Lovely lighting. Glorious lovers music.
Costumes throughout are low key. Down-market Katmandu for Seigmund. Light green outfits that looked like army fatigues for Brunnhilde and her sisters (Vietnam came fleetingly to mind – I blame Apocalypse Now). A Sarah Lundt jumper for Hunding. Low key day clothes then a nightie for Seiglinde over which she mercifully threw a white fur coat when she fled. Wotan in his long fur coat and a startlingly white shirt which at one rather histrionic moment he flings open.
Leaving the lovers to their bliss, we are in Valhalla. A nice, minimal setting – I do like minimal. The white spiral staircase – actually not stairs but a walkway. The singers walked up and down or leant over the railing as required. Filled with stuffed animals – the three from Das Rheingold and some more. Presumably to show us this was the home of the gods. (Donner shoulda been a hunter and it would have made sense!) Here we had the intricate dialogue scenes – Wotan and Brunnhilde, Wotan and Fricka and back to Wotan and Brunhilda. The revolving walkway worked well I thought. Brunhilda skipping down to join her father, Fricka striding slowly, righteously to press her case – less about the sanctity of marriage (no sympathy from me) than the existential question can free will be willed? Sadly for Wotan the answer is no. Wotan is defeated – bowed over the railing. Fricka (Jacqueline Dark) – who was terrific again, as she was in Das Rheingold – triumphant. Her interaction with Wotan more tactile than most – emphasizing they are after all a long married couple. He puts his arms around her as he tries to convince her to desist. When she has demolished his arguments she plants a kiss forcefully on his lips. Claiming what is hers. All good.
The animals disappear from the middle of the spiral walkway and we are on neutral territory for Brunnhilde’s confrontation with Seigmund, later the battle between Seigmund and Hunding – always a bit tricky to pull off. Then we have the bare stage for the Valkyries descending on swings and hooking up heroes who are carried aloft to Valhalla. Then Brunnhilde’s rock encircled by fire – back to traditional Wagner fare. I found it all visually very satisfactory.
Wotan was beautifully sung by Terje Stensvolde all the way through. Lots of light and shade in his voice. Not necessary to have the accompanying declaratory actions – ripping open his shirt front at one stage! I do prefer the stiff upper lip approach but this was okay. I thought the two big dialogues were handled well – vocally, musically and dramatically. Better I think than in other versions – minimal toning and frying – the revolving walkway was good for this. Characters at different levels. Wotan’s conundrum was clear – no simple achievement.
Two key scenes (favourites for me in the whole cycle with high expectations to be met vocally and visually) were just right. Brunnhilde’s Annunciation of Death. I love the beautiful solemnity of the questions and answers: Shall I find my father there? Will any maiden smile on me there? May Siemund embrace Seiglinde there? Stirring, solemn music. The setting allowed a tryptych effect – Brunnhilde above Seigmund above the prone Seiglinde in his arms. Siegmund and Brunnhilde looking straight ahead. Then later, the heart rending Wotan’s Farewell. A very emotional portrayal from Wotan – much kissing and hugging of Brunnhilde, and finally lying down with her, like a father putting an unwilling child to sleep. Laid on with a trowel but satisfactory!
Susan Bullock is a diminutive Brunnhilde in size . Especially against Terje Stensvolde’s tall, graceful Wotan. Her performance highlights the girlish, daughterly devotion aspect of the character in the opening and closing parts of this chapter of the story. Her flight from Wotan and the huddle with the Valkyries was suitably intense. Overall her singing was fine without (yet) being sublime which is what one hopes for from Brunnhilde. We’ll wait and see – she is just starting to climb her mountain of a role.
All in all a very satisfactory evening.
I haven’t read them, but the reviews from the critics are handily collected by the Daily Mail here.