Culture Magazine

Stuttgart Ring: Die Walküre

By Singingscholar @singingscholar
After watching Christoph Nel's version of Walküre, I have concluded that I am musically spoiled by the Met.  I even had a moment of weakness in which I wondered whether being faintly bored by a production was better than being deeply frustrated by one. This was a Walküre which lost mythic romance without substituting gritty bite. The program notes inform me that the director saw his role as that of a psychoanalyst, who wanted to reveal the internal conflicts and ambivalences of the characters, using "today's materials." I'm sorry, but putting Sieglinde in a print dress rather than a medieval kirtle does not automatically make her plight more moving. Brace yourselves, Gentle Readers; I'm going to rant!  Act I of the staging specializes in emphasizing the obvious. In introducing gestures mimicking those of lust into Siegmund and Sieglinde's first exchange, I would accuse it of reducing the profound to the profane. Awkwardly stylized movements sat oddly with a set and properties which are insistently mundane.  Robert Gambill's voice is leaner than what I usually expect from a Siegmund, but he had some beautiful phrasing, and I liked his tone.  I found him sympathetic, as well, though it would be hard not to feel sorry for a man wearing a Lycra tank top, knit shorts, and an iridescent blue windbreaker.  He also contributed moving moments in Act II, though he seemed a shade underpowered (the Stuttgart audience loved him, so maybe he was fine in-house.)  Angela Denoke was, similarly, a slightly small-voiced Sieglinde, and I thought she had some intonation problems, but I'm not sure whether that might be the fault of the recording. The sword bore an unfortunate resemblance to a butter knife, but what the staging did with it was rather interesting: first visible as a sword of light on Sieglinde's body, the weapon itself is revealed when the walls open out during "Du bist der Lenz."
Brünnhilde (Renate Behle) wears a sports coat, identical to Wotan's, and clownish makeup. In the opening of Act II, she is helping her father arrange miniature statues--standing in for human destinies--in the unfurnished basement of a house, where Wotan lounges in track pants. (Under the circumstances, I'm tempted to use the odious term "man cave.") He dons blazer and over-sized sunglasses for the confrontation with Fricka.  The staging, then, seemed to me to take Fricka's side.  Wotan is a self-centered shirker of responsibility; Fricka is an elegantly dressed woman with a mission, and morals (sung with conviction by Tichina Vaughn.) I watched this twice, dutifully, and just was not drawn in by Wotan's monolog. I didn't get a sense of his anguish, nor the scope of the matters at stake. This staging of Siegmund's death managed to leave me dry-eyed. Need I emphasize that this is hard to do? Wotan, Brünnhilde, Hunding, and Siegmund stood behind music stands holding bullhorns while automata built of scrap material raised and lowered swords behind a scrim. After the Siegmund-robot fell, Siegmund walked over to Wotan, who contemplated the scene with him. This leads me to my main criticism of the production: emotionally, it fell flat.

Stuttgart Ring: Die Walküre

Valkyries, Act III. Via Wagneropera.net

The Ride of the Valkyries, well sung, has been dubbed the "Silly Walk Walküre" by Wagneropera.net, a label on which I cannot improve. Eva-Maria Westbroek is a nice treat as Gerhilde, playful and sexy, as well as rich-voiced. Wotan reading a newspaper and stonily ignoring Brünnhilde during "War es so schmaehlich" struck me as a painfully realistic depiction of paternal displeasure. I thought having them on separate levels of the stage for the entire scene, however, undermined the poignancy of their laments for intimacy-about-to-be-lost. Wotan intermittently observes Brünnhilde on a security camera he has, which strikes me as interesting, but didn't seem to fit with an overall idea of the production.  He seems preoccupied and distracted. True, he breaks his "staff," here a long straw of the kind Tom Sawyer might chew, into pieces when describing his "ewige Gram." But I wasn't feeling it. Wotan finally looks directly at his daughter when she is making her plea for the magic fire, and they reach out as for an embrace; but he turns away at the last minute. Brünnhilde sits dejected at a table identical to the one found in Hunding's hut in Act I. I figured that one out: the table and chairs of an oppressive patriarchy that shops at Ikea! Wotan, drunk on the whiskey he has been imbibing, staggers about in the tie that he dons partway through the scene.  He sings "Der Augen leuchtendes Paar" to the TV screen. It is a poignant choice--a loving father unable to show his love--but I didn't feel that it was really supported or explored much by Jan-Hendrik Rootering's Wotan. (Note: the only Walküre-Wotans I've heard live are Morris and Terfel,  so I am spoiled by performances of great emotional depth and nuance.)  Again, Zagrosek and the orchestra of the Staatsoper contributed clean, precise playing; this sometimes verged on feeling too clean, for me, given the larger-than-life emotions of the opera.  The tempi also could seem measured where I wanted them to be running away. This may well have been a noble attempt by the conductor and orchestra to support the interpretation of the production. Would that it had been more rewarding.

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