Bayerische Staatsoper/Nagano: Die Walküre

Date: July 10 – 15, 2012 (second of two Cycles)
Conductor: Kent Nagano
Production: Andreas Kriegenburg
Location: Bavarian State Opera, Munich.

If Andreas Kriegenburg laid the foundation for his Ring concept in Das Rheingold, this Walküre did not so much dismantle it as it did perverse its original cohesion. If in Rheingold human bodies were props for innate objects or metaphorical depictions of abstractions, human bodies were depicted here simply as human bodies.

In Act 1, the Wälsung twins shuttled around nurses, who were busy embalming the cadavers of fallen heroes into mummies, as if trying to depict a war-ravaged, ungovernable world. The difference in the treatment of human bodies may seem trivial, but the poetic treatment of human bodies as physical or allegorical depictions of something else, in Rheingold, seemed lost. Further, the treatment of human bodies here also seemed forced and unnecessary, as if Kriegenburg mandated himself to use his actors even though the flow of the story did not necessarily require their presence.

In Act 2, a wooden back board would move forwards and backwards, thereby creating an illusion that the proscenium was a view finder that was being zoomed in and out. Whether it was Fricka giving her moral lesson, or Wotan given an impassioned defense, by moving the back board towards the stage apron, this nifty little stagecraft allowed the audience to focus even more on the main narrator. Unfortunately, this trick was simply unused in the rest of the Cycle.

If there was one singular moment in Die Walküre, if not in the entire Ring, when the audience truly anticipated something, it would be the start of Act 3, The Ride of the Valkyries. Here, Ritt was preceded by a four-minute, orchestra-less dance choreography by choreographer Zenta Haerter. Eight pairs of female dancers depicted the eight horses on which the Valkyrie sisters would ride. Dressed in petite metallic-silver uniform jumpers and dark army boots, nobody would accuse costume designer Andrea Schraad of not trying to make this scene interesting. Haerter’s choreography, if anything, boiled with energy. When the dancers slung their hair with a vigorous angular momentum, the imagery of eight wild horses flinging their tails in impatience came to the fore. The problem was with timing and length: with the audience eagerly anticipating Wagner’s Ritt music after the break, a music-less dance that lasted more than four minutes was simply too long. Boos erupted before the dance number finished. Even Nagano released a slight grin, as if he anticipated the booing all along. Sympathetic cheers sounded more like a disapproval of the boos than a genuine expression of excitement. The boos were obviously not for the dancers, but sadly the dancers seemed consumed by the audience’s disappointment. No amount of applauses at their curtain call would reverse that.

Iréne Theorin was a powerful Brünnhilde reeling with suppressed emotions, but her movements on stage often seemed weird or misplaced. (Katarina Dalayman was originally cast for the evening but she was replaced by Theorin close to the date.) Thomas J. Mayer, as Wotan, was a fine singer but struggled to project the lower registers. Sophie Koch’s Fricka convincingly switched between a fearless arbiter of morals and Wotan’s dutiful wife. Koch’s voice was at least a level too small for the role, but she more than compensated with meticulous phrasing and a sensual timbre. Ain Anger’s Hunding stirred calamity through his dramatically intense acting and raging voice. Anja Kampe delivered all her notes as Sieglinde but lacked an aura of warmth and melancholy that usually loomed over this half of the twin. The other half was sung by Klaus Florian Vogt, whose trumpet-like voice was atypical amidst the sea of recorded Siegmunds. Nevertheless, he brought a lot of freshness to the role with his light and ringing tessitura.

The eight Valkyrie sisters, as a whole, were vocally the weak link tonight. Danielle Halbwachs’s Gerhilde misfired her top notes badly, and struggled to find any support at the top. Golda Schultz’s Ortlinde was passable but lacked fire. Okka von der Damerau, as Grimgerde, did not project as much confidence as she did as Flosshilde in Rheingold. The Siegrune and Schwertleite of Roswitha C. Müller and Anaïk Morel, respectively, were the only two outstanding performers of the lot. I place their collective mishaps on the booing audience: while the director disrupted the audience’s typical expectation at the beginning of Act 3, the loud boos could very well have disrupted that of incoming stage performers.