“Die Walküre” second of “The Ring Cycle” at SF Opera

“Die Walküre” second of “The Ring Cycle” at SF Opera

Carol Benet

“Die Walküre”, Richard Wagner’s second of his tetrology of “The Ring of the Nibelungen” is a wonder for the San Francisco Opera.  It is so popular as an opera that it has been performed by SF Opera 76 times since 1900,

It truly is a spectacle with its flying Walküre dressed as parachutists and singing the famous ensemble “The Ride of the Walküries” to the fiery effects of the final scene where Brünnhillde lays sleeping on a mountain top to await her awakening by a hero, the stage is alive with activity and gorgeous singing and acting.  The 4 hour, 33 minute production with two long intermissions is engrossing.

“Die Walküre” continues the story of the family of gods headed by Wotan, here played by one of the leading stars of the role Greer Grimsley.  Wotan is tormented by his duties.  He must uphold family values for the continuation of his race and is troubled by his wife Fricka’s demand that he kill two of his numerous children who are not only from an adulterous liaison but are in an incestuous love bond.  Fricka played by a convincing Jamie Barton, is the goddess of marriage and this couple should not continue living.

The twins, Sieglinde performed by world famous Karita Mattilla and Sigmund (Brandon Janovovich), are attractive fabulous singers who play the love-pair.  Their duet near the end of Act I , “Winterstüme wicked den Wonnemond” (“Winter storms vanish by the merry May moon”) is one of the most often sung works in recitals, creates an episode that leaves the audience fixed in its adoration.

The drama is created by Sieglinde running away from her abusive husband Hunding (Raymond AcetoI), a brute in every movement. She flees with Siegmund after he extracts the magical sword Notung from an ash tree where it has been placed for protection by his father Wotan. In this production this scene and the following are placed, not in the traditional Medieval settings, but in modern times where the couple land up underwear a freeway amidst the detritus of the homeless.

Wotan, Fricka and Brünnhilde, his favorite daughter from his union with Erda, the earth goddess seen in the first opera “Das Rheingold”, meet in a swanky modern office above skyscrapers seen in the background.  All projections are from Jan Hartley and remounted by S. Katy Tucker. The sets are marvelously construed by the well-known artist Michael Yeargan who often works for the SF Opera.  Fricka’s demand that an unwilling Wotan kill his twin children Sigmund and Sieglinde is a requirement that he places on Brünnhilde in a touching scene between father and daughter.

Act II ends with Hunding’s discovery of the love pair  and when Sigmund’s sword breaks at the hands of Wotan he dies but Brünnhilde, against her father’s orders, saves Sieglinde.  And then there follows the famous beginning of Act III  with the ride of die Walkuries, the 8 sisters of Brünnhilde and daughters of Erda and Wotan.  Director Francesca Zambello spares no theatricality in this scene as they fly across the stage in their aviator costumes (Catherine Zuber) and assemble singing the famous song that is so often heard on the concert stage as well as in advertisements on television.  A domestic battle ensues with the daughters refusing to go agains Wotan’s orders and turn their backs on Brünnhilde who accompanies a frightened and pregnant Sieglinde whom she wants to protect in order to continue their race with the birth of a son Siegfried, the subject of the next opera.

A conflicted Wotan returns and places his loving daughter Brünnhilde in a sleep on a mountain top where she awaits the arrival of a hero who will cross the ring of fire to awaken her.

“Die Walküre” is nothing less then a specular work of timeless art.  There are two more cycles of “The Ring” that completes its run on July 1 at the SF Opera.  Sfopera.org.

About the Author

Carol BenetCarol Benet received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she won an Outstanding Teaching Award. She also received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. Her teaching assignments have been at UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley Extension, Dominican University and Washington State University. Currently she holds literature discussion groups in Marin County and San Francisco and is a critic of the arts for The Ark Newspaper and a contributor to ARTSSF.com and ForAllEvents.com.View all posts by Carol Benet →

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