San Francisco Opera Digital Evaluation 2021: Das Rheingold: ‘Die Walküre’
(Image credit: Cory Weaver)
From the underwater world to the wild and terrible world – Rhine virgins to brother / sister love, father / daughter separation, profit to loss: In other words: “The Valkyrie”.
And what a valkyrie! Spectacular projections – swirling winds, stormy storm water, trees that bend and sway in all directions, and Siegmund, who wakes up in a house in the forest to love Sieglinde. Sieglinde received him despite her marriage to Hunding the Wild. Complete with the Americana of the American West – deer heads on the wall, alongside rifles and swords, multiple shelves of gold trophies, beer, and rough handling of emotions that are far more delicate and expensive. This was hardcore opera with music to die for.
The score we know is great. The tapestry of motifs only set the stage for the remarkable pan-drama that is about to unfold. Conductor Donald Runnicles retained the high rhythmic energy throughout its nearly four hour development. The opening of the second act with brass and strings leading the way was more than just setting the tone for the steel office and the skyscrapers from the window and the changing dialogue between Wotan and Fricka. Their changeable temperaments were exquisitely coordinated with the winch, horns and bassoons. Their voices were also never lost as they sang against the ascending and descending arpeggios that guided and supplemented their questionable discussion.
At the time of Brünnhilde’s defiant portrayal of Wotan and Wotan’s subsequent curse, the music served as a friend who could complain and lambast when necessary. Of course, Sieglinde’s glorious melodic confirmation of giving birth to the child of her union with Siegmund produced a transcendent moment that was no longer just human, but perhaps divine. The Valkyries also added another dimension and gave us unforgettable starters for choral singing, one of the few times when there is more than one solo piece.
The characters glowed. Siegmund, played by the American tenor Brandon Jovanovich, was heroic, expressive, personal and was able to turn to Sieglinde with the greatest love from the start with a voice of caressing tones. While she was taking the lead in terms of enthusiasm, Jovanovich walked up to her easily when he admitted seeing her in his dreams of love. The recognition here showed that at that moment Jovanovich was full of love, and not just conveying the information. His own pleasure in “finding” their life and breathing in front of him was one of the several recognitions on the scene between them, and a perfect prelude to the recognitions that followed.
The progression intensified as the feelings of brother and sister increased. Jovanovich’s performance of the glowing “winter storms gave way to the happy moon” was lovely. He conveyed the exquisite music with lyrical warmth, which differs from the previous dramatic monologues and dialogues. The harp, clarinet, and bassoon added to their gentle and happy prospects as their love brought forth spring. Jovanovich captured so much of the beauty and warmth of poetry when the set changed from dark and wintry to a pastel beauty with birds in the song, although in a few moments there was a lack of abundance in words and notes. However, he remained a convincing and moving hero, full of love and devotion as well as power and heroic conviction.
Sieglinde was sung by the Finnish soprano Karita Mattila. It was excellent in its dramatic and realistic portrayal and showed an enormous range of emotions. She was a naive observer at the opening when she saw Siegmund for the first time, a clever helper when planning with him to fool Hunding, a passionate lover because she was passionate about him and even had the zeal for hers Breaking vows. She poured herself into the part. She danced ecstatically in front of him, moved with girlish ease and became the bride with openness and enthusiasm. She sang with the rapture.
Her shame after their union – probably not because of the fact that Siegmund is her twin brother, that recognition has not yet come about – but because she betrayed her marriage vows – she received with an authentic response. This was a really suffering woman. So also in their horror of Hunding when they run away, and in their grief when Siegmund dies. In her last scene, the exquisite survey that confirmed Brünnhilde that she would bear and protect the child, her voice filled every drop of heaven. Here Matilla’s voice was enthusiastic, echoing with what felt like sacred truth. The twin lovers were well matched, lively, passionate, passionate, and their voices were high.
Brünnhilde, the Swedish soprano Iréne Theorin, was passionate and fiery. She managed quick changes in emotions with ease, or should we say scorched into the situation. In addition, she dug depths behind every emotion – devoted love for Siegmund, pity for his grief, compassion and sincere care for Sieglinde, passionate defiance of her father. She also showed consolation for Sieglinde, caught in the anger and torment of her father. With her eight Valkyries sisters, she showed friendship and guidance. While openly admitting her defiance to Wotan, she sincerely expressed her desire to save her from similar punishment. Then, of course, she sang a remarkable farewell to her father, complete with nuanced apology, refusal to deny the truth, and belief in her actions, while her admission had devastating consequences. Her sadness about this was just as convincing as her acceptance. In the end, she was her father’s daughter.
Theorin’s voice rose and fell, carrying these feelings far. Full and round, aching and caressing, it projected boldness and invincibility as it conveyed intimacy and sharpness. Theorin’s performance gradually showed us how she becomes the “heroine” of the opera. In her final scene with Wotan, she shows her courage, strength and ability to surrender. Theorins Brünnhilde was nimble on stage and moved with grace from level to level and from person to person, without, however, losing sight of the imperative of the unfolding conspiracy. It’s hard to believe that so much depended on it and was portrayed in such a moving body that sang the glorious story of loss at the same time.
Greer Grimsley’s performance of Wotan was triumphant. With a voice that was always declamatory and persistent, sonically resonant, determined, masterful, he managed to take on the role with confidence and courage. He was silent at appropriate times, and those moments contrasted sharply with his godlike gallop across the stage at key moments. He made his farewell to his beloved daughter aptly, as well as the curse he had cast earlier. As he covered the warrior on the rock with his cloak, as he lifted her head to soften the hard surface underneath, as he finally bid her farewell, we felt sincere regrets and were delighted with his commitment to the integrity of his faith. With Fricka, Grimsley showed conflict and submission, the henpecked husband, the struggling paternalistic man who was finally beginning to realize that he couldn’t have everything he wanted.
Grimsley took the stage with conviction. The role demands persistence that not everyone who can sing as well as Grimsley can take. From the Rhine to the rocks, from the mountain to the office building, he has never deviated from his job. While we may question his hubris – with Brünnhilde and her sisters – his greed for Alberich in Rheingold, his iron will for Siegmund, we followed him when he rode the torrent of the consequences of his actions. A Wotan was definitely to be expected here.
Jamie Barton’s Fricka was a must-see. Not only was her voice glorious and dazzling in its ups and downs, but her acting skills enhanced her presentation too. She went on stage in her burgundy trousers dress with fur cuffs, a fitting contrast to the boardroom she entered. There, she calmed down, she threatened, she demanded. We were in her vocal spell when Wotan was her commanding insistence on marriage vows. She was the guardian of marriage, after all. She disapproved of what the twins did to Hunding, let alone being brother and sister. She went wild with anger yet was cool and collected when she insisted that Wotan sign her contract. Obviously, Fricka showed Wotan, with whom she could not mess.
Hunding was sung by Raymond Aceto. Aceto aptly embodied an evil, macho-tough guy from the Wild West who trudged around in his boots, a house full of trophies and guns, and a group of hooligans to help him if he needed them, as long as we know Hunding is a straw man , his performance conveys harsh, harsh oppressive behavior with remarkable and terrible conviction. He roared and stamped with vocal talent. The harsh noises he uttered were never difficult to hear, though difficult to bear their content.
The eight Valkyries entered the stage in parachute outfits and swung in with apparent ease. What an entrance! What a boost! What a serenity! And there was no question of the lack of sisterhood, which in this case was more than powerful. Her resilient singing paired with Brünnhilde and then with Wotans with ease and beauty. It was a polished and even charming performance.
Last but not least was the remarkable pyrotechnics of the production itself. We had air entrances from the Valkyries; Fire around the rocky mountain where Brünnhilde sleeps; wild forest storm with trees that bend and sway, winds blow; a magical word that was freed from an old ash tree, complete with “Sturm und Drang”. All of this without the music, the voices, the story.
Zambellos “Walküre” illustrated what the story says: the death of nature through technology. Still, it showed technology as a suitable maid for the art that was created by humans. It undoubtedly added the spectacular element to the performance, and those of us who grew up in the cinema didn’t blink twice. Other directors might disagree, including grandson Wieland Wagner. However, the success of the production of the Zambello did not depend on these technical elements. Rather, it reinforced what she stressed throughout the human relationship, a moral challenge and the power of art.