What's Playing? / Richard Wagner - "Die Walkuere" at the Metropolitan Opera
"Die Walkuere" (The Valyrie) is the second part of Richard Wagner's monumental cycle, "The Ring of the Nibelung."
In the first act, a mortal brother and sister, Siegmund and Sieglinde, who are twins, find one another after many years and fall passionately in love. Sieglinde is in a loveless marriage to the much older Hunding, and runs off with her brother. Another complication is that they are the children of a mortal mother and the god Wotan, who in one of his earthly wanderings, called himself "Wolf." Hunding, irate, plans to track them down and kill them.
In the second act, the Norse gods really get into the act. Wotan's wife, Fricka, insists that Wotan not protect Siegmund in the coming fight, and he gives in to her, reluctantly. He told his favorite daughter, Bruennhilde, the Valkyrie of the title, to shield Siegmund, and now has to tell her not to. She does, anyway, and also rescues Sieglinde, who is expecting a child, thus carrying on Wotan's mortal line. Wotan is enraged, and goes to find and punish her.
In Act Three, we meet all the Valkyries, in the famous "Ho-jo-to-ho!" ride. They cannot disobey Wotan when he tells them to abandon Bruennhilde. He punishes her by taking away her godhood and putting her into a deep sleep. Originally, he was going to leave her there for any man to find, but she convinces him, because he still loves her, to create a magic ring of fire around her that only a fearless hero can penetrate.
This all happens to some of the most glorious, mind-bending music that has ever been written. It includes the "Ride of the Valkyries," "The Magic Fire" and the two first act love monologues by the twins, but the rest of it is equally thrilling.
This performance, using the set that is now known in-house as "The Machine," a series of huge metal planks controlled by a battery of computers and spectacularly lit, worked perfectly, and the effects are amazing.
The singing was outstanding, from the eight Valkyries to the top gun, Bryn Terfel, as Wotan, an exhausting role. He never once flagged in his singing or in the created life of the emotionally torn man-god he portrayed. He had more depth than any other Wotan I've ever seen. As his adored but disobedient daughter, Bruennhilde, beautiful dramatic soprano Deborah Voigt was just plain superb in every way, a suitable heiress to some of the greatest Wagnerian sopranos of history. As Fricka, Wotan's indignant wife who in myth is the guardian of marriage and morality, mezzo soprano Stephanie Blythe was equally great. She was righteous, and how, but she also let you know that she still loved her husband, despite his many "wanderings." Her voice is "rich and rare," full in range and color. Hans-Peter Koenig was the wronged husband, Hunding. I wasn't too sad when Wotan finished him off because he was also a crude brute. That role was skillfully created and marvelously sung.
Now to the twins -- as Sieglinde, Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek was lovely in every way, much too good for Hunding. Her passionate portrait was both thrilling and heartbreaking, vocally and dramatically. Her lover and brother, Siegmund was Jonas Kaufmann, who is the best-looking dramatic tenor since Peter Hofmann and Jess Thomas. (No more super- size tenors.) He's tall, slim, handsome, and on top of it all, he is a gorgeous singer. The scene between him and Westbroek lifted you right out of your seat, and frankly, you stayed high for most of the afternoon.
This is a remarkable production. The Met will add the second half the of the "Ring" next season. Even if you don't really like Wagner, but love drama and music generally, give "Die Walkuere" a go, assuming you can get a ticket.
The conductor was James Levine, whose obvious respect and concern for Wagner and the weighty work the singers all had to do, the music, the set, the drama, never wavered from the decades-long standard of excellence and joy that has always characterized his work, placing him in the all-time pantheon of great conductors. Therefore, his obvious fragility as he mounted the podium with some difficulty as well as his decisions to cut back on his heavy schedule, are causes for concern for all who respect and love his work.