Seattle Opera’s luxurious mounting of Wagner’s “Ring of the Nibelungs” continued with the imposing “Die Walküre”.
The second part of the four opera “Ring of the Nibelungs”, the opera “Die Walküre”, has almost the same cast as it had in Seattle Opera’s 2009 “Ring”, with the exception of five of the nine valkyries – Wotan’s daughters who carry fallen heroes to Valhalla.
The most important newcomer was Brünnhilde, the Valkyrie to whom the opera’s title refers. Brünnhilde 2013 was sung by British soprano Alwyn Mellor.
Notes on the First Act
I had described Act I of the 2009 performance in detail previously [see Seattle Opera’s Memorable “Walküre” Revival – August 10, 2009.] Most of the details of Stephen Wadsworth’s staging from 2009 are retained.
Not only did all three principals return – Australian heldentenor Stuart Skelton as Siegmund, American soprano Margaret Jane Wray as Sieglinde and Italian basso Andrea SIlvestrelli as Hunding – but their already high level of performance achieved four years ago was exceeded.
[Below: Siegmund (Stuart Skelton, left) finds Hunding (Andrea Silvestrelli, right) to be a dangerous host; edited image, based on a Elise Bakketun photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]
Skelton’s vocal delivery demonstrates a lyrical sweetness, notably when he sings with Wray’s Sieglinde. But he also shows explosive power in such passages as his plaintive call Waelse – the only name he knew for his father Wotan.
Four years ago Placido Domingo had not yet retired this role. I had expressed confidence that Skelton would be recognized as a successor to Domingo’s style of bel canto Wagnerian singing.
Skelton is unquestionably a contemporary Siegmund of the highest rank. He is deservedly compared with three other great Siegmunds of the mid-20th century – Jon Vickers, Jess Thomas and James King – all of whom I admired in live performances.
[Below: Siegmund (Stuart Skelton) to the delight of Sieglinde (Margaret Jane Wray) takes possession of the sword Nothung; edited image, based on a Elise Bakketun photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]
Notes on the Second Act
One of the intriguing ideas of the Wadsworth’s Seattle Ring is that the gods wander about the spaces inhabited by the mortals. The first part of the second act is traditionally, even in non-traditional Rings, set in a Walhalla remote from human existence.
Not so the Seattle Ring! Here Brünnhilde and her valkyrie sisters wander about the paths to Hunding’s house, where Brünnhilde playfully jokes with her father, Wotan (Greer Grimsley).
[Below: Brünnhilde (Alwyn Mellor, left) enjoys a light-hearted moment with her father, Wotan (Greer Grimsley); edited image, based on a Elise Bakketun photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]
Fricka (Stephanie Blythe), responds to Hunding’s plea for her to intervene in his domestic quarrel.
Hunding’s wife has entered into an adulterous and incestuous relationship with Hunding’s brother-in-law that he had not even known existed prior to “Walküre’s” first act.
As Wotan and Fricka sort out their power relationships, Fricka wanders about the interior of Hunding’s house, even tidying up the disarray left when Sieglinde abandoned Hunding to cohabit with Siegmund.
It is an extraordinary scene, in which Blythe and Grimsley create a powerful impression of this pivotol Fricka-Wotan encounter.
Blythe’s Fricka is so persuasive, and is obviously so respected by Grimsley’s Wotan, that Wotan abandons a two-decade old stratagem to secure possession of the Ring once more.
[Below: Fricka (Stephanie Blythe) pleads with Wotan (Greer Grimsley) to do what he must to save her honor among the gods and men; edited image, based on a Elise Bakketun photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]
The second part of the second act introduces a mountainous scene with a path winding around a craggy outcrop and an overlook – one of the most effective of Thomas Lynch’s brilliant sets. (We will see this scene again in both “Siegfried” and “Goetterdaemmerung”.)
Here, Siegmund and Sieglinde have come, where Siegmund intends to slay Hunding with his newfound sword.
The overlook provides the setting for Brünnhilde’s appearance to announce to the shocked Siegmund his impending death in the battle with Hunding.
Skelton and Mellor dispatched their characters’ affecting duet (which Wagnerians refer to as the Todesverkuendig) beautifully.
Wadsworth’s details are, as always, illuminating. Mellor’s Brünnhilde hovers over Sieglinde to protect her against Skelton’s Siegmund – who is determined to kill her rather than let her return to Hunding.
Siegmund’s unexpected reaction causes Brünnhilde to commit to saving Siegmund, Sieglinde and their unborn child, Siegfried, by disobeying the firm instructions of her powerful father.
As Silvestrelli’s Hunding arrives, in another Wadsworth touch, he angrily swipes his sword in the direction of Wray’s Sieglinde, before moving into position to battle Siegmund.
To counteract Brünnhilde’s act of rebellion, Grimsley’s Wotan hands Silvestrelli’s Hunding his spear – on whose point are carved all the contractual arrangements that govern the world’s affairs – to slay Siegmund.
Wotan sadly ministers to the dying Siegmund. So does Fricka to the dying Hunding.
[Below: Wotan (Greer Grimsley, right) bids farewell to his dying son, Siegmund (Stuart Skelton, left, against rock wall; edited image, based on an Elise Bakketun photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]
The act ends as the enraged Wotan takes off, seeking revenge against his errant daughter.
Notes on the third act
Brünnhilde’s eight valkyrie sisters – Gerhilde (Wendy Bryn Harmer), Grimgerde (Renee Tatum), Helmwige (Jessica Klein), Ortlinde (Tamara Mancini), Rossweise (Cecelia Hall), Schwertleite (Luretta Bybee), Siegrune (Sarah Heltzel) and Waltraute (Suzanne Hendrix) – delivered the Ride of the Valkyries, which, unquestionably, (aside from the ubiquitous wedding march from “Lohengrin”) is Wagner’s most famous composition.
The valkyries are positioned on the narrow pathway high up a sheer granite face that we will know as “Brünnhilde’s Rock” on which scenes in the two later operas also take place.
Wagner’s writing encourages individual personalities for the valkyries, a cue that Wadsworth takes to heart. Each one reacts in their own way to the astonishing news that Brünnhilde is now a fugitive and that she is engaged in a defiant strategy to save Wotan’s unborn son.
[Below: the valkyries surround Sieglinde (Margaret Jane Wray, second from right) and Brünnhilde (Alwyn Mellor, right); edited image, based on a Elise Bakketun photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]
Even more striking is the staging of each individual Valkyrie’s response to Wotan’s demand that all ties between them and their disgraced sister be severed. Some take off immediately. Some dare to embrace her one last time.
The third act is famous not only for the Valkyries Ride, but for overpowering scene between Wotan and Brünnhilde, in a stellar reading by Mellor and Grimsley.
The act culminated in the “highlights” known as Wotan’s Farewell and the crackling music of the Magic Fire that will encircle Brünnhilde’s Rock, continuing to burn when she is awakened by her hero in the third act of “Siegfried” and then is unwittingly betrayed by him in the first act of “Goetterdaemmerung”.
[Below: Wotan (Greer Grimsley, center right) bids a magic fire to surround the mountain; edited image, based on an Alan Alabastro photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]
The sellout Seattle Opera audience sounded roars of approval at the end of each of the first two acts and an ovation of Wagnerian proportions at opera’s end.
No tribute to the career of the retiring Seattle Opera General Director Speight Jenkins could have been more inspirational than this year’s “Ring” in general and this performance of “Walküre” in particular.
Any opera goer with the opportunity to get hold of any remaining ticket for either of the two final “Walküre” performances should do so.
For my reviews of the other performances of the Seattle Opera “Ring of the Nibelungs”, see:
A Richly Rewarding, Re-imagined “Rheingold” – Seattle Opera, August 4, 2013, and also,
Seattle Opera’s Sumptuously Sung, Sensuous “Siegfried” with a Surprise – August 7, 2013.