Opera Review


Fresh approach works in ‘Die Walkure’

By Juliet Schoen / Theater Critic

The excitement continues with Los Angeles Opera’s presentation of “Die Walkure,” the second in Richard Wagner’s four-part cycle, “Der Ring des Nibelungen.” Running four hours and 50 minutes, “Die Walkure” may be sit-worthy for Wagnerphiles, but others might find the time a bit of a stretch. Fortunately, the production at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion offered noble interpretation of the music, a marvelous cast and, what works extraordinarily well, the gimmicks and shticks of director-artist Achim Freyer.

Although Freyer’s work is not admired by everyone, his imagination and creativity give sparkle to the heavy, mythic tale. While the gods and mortals would ordinarily wear medieval-type costumes, here their outlandish, painted garb helps one recognize the players without a program. In addition, there is always something dramatic and unexpected happening, like two huge hands extending from the wings or a huge cloak descending from the rafters and a clock with its single hand motored around the middle of the raked stage by a figure in black.

“Die Walkure” has several of the characters from the first opera, “Das Rheingold,” which deals with the quest for power in the form of the titular ring. Although reference is made to the story of the earlier opera, most of the action now revolves around the sanctity of marriage and other moral issues.

Wotan, the king of the Gods, and his wife, Fricka, are at odds about the incestuous mating of Wotan’s twins, Siegmund and Sieglinde. As the goddess of marriage, Fricka insists that Siegmund must be punished. Thus nagged, Wotan orders the death of his son at the hands of Brunnhilde, his favorite of the eight Walkure. Failing to heed Wotan’s instructions, she is put to sleep on a rock and surrounded by a fire.

For the finale, with tempestuous music making the heart beat faster, Freyer has used his fertile imagination to create an extraordinary fire. Brunnhilde sleeps, awaiting a hero to forge through the fire to awaken her next year when Los Angeles Opera presents the final two works of the “Ring,” “Siegfried” and “Gotterdammerung.”

A blurb in the Los Angeles Times states erroneously that Pl├ícido Domingo is the eponymous hero in “Der Walkure.” Although he has sung more roles than any tenor in history, he has never played a warrior maiden and, hopefully, never will. He actually plays Siegfried and a wonderful Siegfried he is. Although he is 68, he still sings blissfully, with a voice that is strong, warm and polished. The rest of the cast is up to his standard.

His twin sister is sung beautifully by the German soprano Anja Kampe, secure in her demanding role. Linda Watson, who makes her entrance singing the difficult “Ho-Yo-To-Ho” aria as Brunnhilde, is remarkably fine through the emotional final act. Other important roles are sung with intensity by Vitalij Kowaljow as Wotan, Michelle DeYoung as Fricka and Eric Halfvarson as the villain, Hunding.

Another hero is James Conlon who conducts the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra and evokes the power of Wagner’s music while allowing the singers to be heard.

What’s five hours when you’re having fun?