We are lucky here in Melbourne to have Melbourne Opera and even luckier to have this wonderful company take on Wagner’s Ring Cycle. We had Part 1: Das Rheingold last year. I’ve written about it (belatedly) here. Now we have Part 2: Die Walküre. We saw the second staging of this production on 11 February 2020. The program features a Jeffrey Smart etching which he gave personally to the company’s Patron-in-Chief Lady Potter, presumably some years ago. A powerful image.
In her Director’s Notes, Suzanne Chaundy says her challenge is to portray this epic work in a truly affecting way. She says that too often the real and raw emotions are overlooked in the storytelling for the sake of a concept. I agree whole-heartedly. Some reviewers of this production have called it traditional meaning I suspect old-fashioned. Not a criticism in my book.
Chaundy goes on to describe her design (she always uses the Royal ‘we’) as epic in which she has adopted a deeply detailed performance style to interrogate every dramatic moment. She has successfully achieved this using every element at her disposal, set, lighting, costumes and directing. Squeezing every ounce of drama from the story is the great achievement of this production.
As she says while in Das Rheingold we have watched the renunciation of love in return for power, here the focus is on the power of love. The passionate love of Siegmund and Sieglinde; Wotan’s paternal love for both his wolflings and his valkyrie, their love of him, Sieglinde’s love for her unborn child. So many glorious moments – both musically and dramatically!
Right from the outset and throughout the standard of acting from the singers was outstanding – a level above many other productions. The set which built on the one used in Das Rheingold (which in the moment I had forgotten) supports the performers in every way. All of the spaces were open and ease of movement assured. All of them moved confidently, giving added depth to their characters.
Everything required of the story was in its place including the Ash tree in Hunding’s hut – which in many productions is either missing entirely or completely abstract. I liked the way it looked like a very old tree with a bifurcated trunk. Having the larger trunk rise symbolically up to the realm of the gods was an effective way to transition from Act 1 to Act 2.
The scene in Hunding’s hut can be a bit busy with people wandering hither and thither – often in the murky gloom. But here it all worked well and the lighting was terrific. I’m not sure we needed to see Seiglinde put the drug in Hunding’s drink but no harm done. I was particularly pleased we didn’t have any overt violence done to Sieglinde; lots of modern productions want to see her physically assaulted but there’s no need for anything further than the I belong to Hunding which says it all.
I was also pleased that the dawning love between the two siblings emerged through their increasingly intent glances. This is consistent with Wagner’s wishes and I’ve never seen it done so clearly as here. In the very first Ring Cycle I saw, in Adelaide in 1998 (see my blog here) perversely the singers were instructed not to look at each other, and they didn’t even when declaring undying love for each other!
As ever I don’t feel confident enough to critique the singing. All of it was fine by me. For more nuanced and knowledgeable responses to the strengths and weaknesses of the singers and the orchestra check out the reviews I’ve linked to below. I thought the Melbourne Opera orchestra was, as usual, wonderful under the baton of Wagner expert Anthony Negus. Lots of spine tingling moments.
Having seen Lee Abrahmsen in a number of Melbourne Opera Wagner productions I expected her to be a great Sieglinde and she was. Here she is discovering Siegmund exhausted. [Photos are from the Man in Chair review linked below.]
Bradley Daley as Siegmund was fine. The two of them have similar colouring and really looked like twins. I’m not sure Stephen Gallop looked mean enough for Hunding. His physique – tall and slender – was against him here, as it was in the role of Alberich in Das Rheingold. I didn’t find him really menacing. A bit tough on a singer to respond like this.
I was really looking forward to seeing Warwick Fyffe as Wotan. As with Lee Abrahmsen I’ve seen him in many productions and other roles. Notably for me as Fasolt in Das Rheingold in my very first Ring and his performance of Fasolt’s yearning for Freia was so moving I’ve felt fondly for him ever since! Even in his celebrated role as Alberich in the Melbourne Ring! I wondered how he would go as Wotan as his physical characteristics to my mind fit Alberich better than the all powerful God of the Universe. But he