Last opera for the season
special to the daily
One might hesitate to suggest Wagner to a first-time opera patron crossing into the inner world of ancient mythology. Yet, many have found the introduction to Wagner quite rewarding.
The magic that has held these operas in the repertory and in the subconscious of many opera lovers is the use of “leitmotivs,” a musical sketch that involves an assembly of notes that Wagner himself describes as being “pregnant with meaning.”
The opera opens with leaping motifs in the orchestra depicting wild weather. From inside a forest hut, an unarmed man, Siegmund (sung by Jonas Kaufmann), escapes the storm and collapses in front of an open hearth. Sieglinde (Eva-Maria Westbroek in her Met debut) enters the scene only to find her unannounced visitor. The blending of the musical motives for each leaves little doubt, however, that their destinies are soon to be interlinked.
As Sieglinda attends to his needs, husband Hunding (Hans-Peter König in his Met debut) arrives on the scene in somber character. As the three settle into a rough meal, Hunding notices a great resemblance between the two. At Hunding’s query as to who he is, Siegmund refers to himself as “Wehwalt,” a man of misfortune who one day returned home from a hunting trip with his father Wolfe, only to find that his mother had been killed, their home laid to waste, and his twin sister missing. Hunding recognizes “Wolfe” as an enemy of the past, with the opportunity now to seek revenge.
Later in the opera, we are introduced to Wotan, king of the gods (sung by Bryn Terfel) and his daughter, Brunnhilde (Deborah Voigt), the eldest Valkyrie, who immediately warns of the approach of Fricka (Stephanie Blythe), his wife and queen of the gods. Fricka has foreknowledge that Hunding is on his way to destroy Siegmund. After condemning his love for Sieglinde as adultery and incest that degrades the sacredness of the gods, she finally wins from the reluctant Wotan an oath that he will not interfere with Hundung’s mission. Brunnhilde then returns, and in a long monologue, Wotan dejectedly tells his daughter the story of his many failures, and then demands that she promises not to protect Siegmund, thereby preserving the sanctity of the gods. Brunnhilde relents and flies off as she sees Siegmund and Sieglinde approaching in the distance.
Sieglinda is in hysteria and overcome with guilt, visualizing the fall of Siegmund to Hunding’s sword. She faints in Siegmund’s arms. Brunnhilde appears and, as an “angel of death” knowing the ultimate outcome, offers to take Siegmund to Valhalla. In one of the most poignant interchanges in the opera, Siegmund refuses Brunhilde’s offer for immortality in Valhalla if Sieglinde cannot accompany him. In short order Hunding arrives, and the battle with Siegmund rages. At a critical juncture, when Brunnhilde uses her shield to protect Siegmund from Hunding’s fatal blow, Wotan’s spear shatters Siegmund’s sword, and he is slain.
The final act opens on a craggy mountain where the valkyries gather to the familiar music of the “Ride of the Valkyries” to protect Brunhilde from Wotan’s wrath. Brunnhilde arrives with Sieglinde in her saddle. Upon revival, Sieglinde is informed that she is carrying in her womb Siegmund’s child, at which time she runs off. Then Wotan appears, ordering the Valkyries to leave. He then steps forward to invoke Brunhilde’s punishment, who with objection, agrees to his sentence of sleeping on a rock as a mortal, prey to the first man who finds her. As a last condition of grace, Brunnhilde requests that fire should surround her so that only a worthy hero can awaken wake her. Overcome with sadness, Wotan summons the fire be set the leaves.
For those familiar with “Die Walkure,” stage director Robert Lepage’s production of the opera is a new experience, combining cutting-edge video and scenic technology with traditional costuming. Employed are the same flexible computerized plank sets used in the opening production of “Das Reingold,” in all 22 settings and scenes, including the forest hut of Hunding, the jagged mountain-top home of the Valkyries, and the flaming rock where Wotan forces Brunnhilde into supernatural slumber. The vast experience of conductor James Levine, and his in-depth connection with Wagner’s orchestral score, results in music beyond compare.
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