Die Walküre

Patrick Summers
Houston Grand Opera Orchestra
Date/Location
April 2015
Wortham Theater Center Houston
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cast
SiegmundSimon O’Neill
HundingAin Anger
WotanIain Paterson
SieglindeKarita Mattila
BrünnhildeChristine Goerke
FrickaJamie Barton
HelmwigeKelly Kaduce
GerhildeJulie Makerov
OrtlindeNatalya Romaniw
WaltrauteCatherine Martin
SiegruneEve Gigliotti
GrimgerdeRenée Tatum
SchwertleiteMeredith Arwady
RoßweißeFaith Sherman
Gallery
Reviews
bachtrack.com

Superb cast in Fura del Baus’ American Walküre debut

All five of the Houston Grand Opera’s performances of Die Walküre sold out immediately – more than 13,000 seats – and there are several good reasons why. Primarily, one would think that it was because the cycle marked first American performances of the inspired, enormously effective and widely acclaimed production seen in Valencia, Spain and at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino by the Catalan theater group La Fura del Baus, which uses wild, Cirque de Soleil imagery and machinery. A closer look, however, spots the deeper reason – HGO and conductor Patrick Summers have assembled, arguably, the finest cast available for this opera in the world.

“Timeless” is the word people like to use for Wagner’s Ring, and Carlus Padrissa’s direction on the production by Fura del Baus, abetted by Chu Aroz’ costumes, Roland Olbeter’s set, and Franc Aleu’s videos, is precisely that. From the pre-historic, Stone Age opening to the futuristic world of the gods, all of time and space seems to unfold in front of us. The opening storm is depicted by a mad race through a dense forest with almost three-dimensional hunting dogs in pursuit, the tree in Hunding’s hut takes up most of the stage and shimmers and throbs, there are animal bones strewn about, and Sieglinde, tattooed and in animal skins, is on a leash and crawls when she is not walking on her haunches. Act II introduces us to the gods against a background projections of bubbling gases, laser lights and the heavens and planets, and Wotan, Brünnhilde and Fricka arrive on cranes (with protective bars to keep them steady while aloft), operated by black-clad figures who raise and lower them. (Padrissa has stated that this is a nod to Greek drama’s Deus ex machina.) There are very few props, but the goddesses have their breastplates and helmets, Wotan has his patch (and a long, white robe), and Siegmund has his spear. The visual pièce de résistence comes at the opening of the last act: a giant hanging ball with the bodies of a couple of dozen slain heroes (some mannequins, some acrobats) swings back and forth as the Valkyries ride against a background of ever-changing sky. Four of the sisters are suspended on cranes, the others are at stage level; at one point the four on cranes are suspended over the orchestra pit. The effect is staggering. And at the finale, Wotan places Brünnhilde in a real ring of fire, against a golden backdrop.

The remarkable thing about all of these “effects” is that Padrissa still manages to make the characters real. Siegmund’s confusion and strength, Sieglinde’s love – and the fact that she begins to walk upright once the bond between her and Siegmund becomes clear – Hunding’s stalking, are all riveting and clear. The confrontation between Wotan and Fricka, which begins as a squabble and ends in a knockdown, is enormously moving – Wotan literally falls to the ground, dropping his spear, once he capitulates. As Wotan tells his daughter of his woes, a huge sun-background eventually goes into eclipse, leaving a ring of flame. Stage and word are invariably wedded.

All ears were on Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde and she did not disappoint. With a warm, womanly tone, absolutely free from top to bottom, from her opening battle cry to her final plea, she proved to be the ideal: enthusiastic and fun at the start, then disobedient and headstrong, then rueful and resigned – and we could hear, in Goerke’s expressive singing, the learning arc. Brava! Wotan was bass-baritone Iain Paterson, regal of stature, generous with his rock-solid tone and attentive to each of the god’s changing situations. His second act grieving and third act rage were equally potent. The young and remarkable Jamie Barton was a Fricka who, at first, wheedled, but would not be put off; her anger grew, and by the time she had dipped into some vicious chest tones, we knew that the Ring had changed direction.

The non-gods were just as impressive. Ain Anger, a tall Estonian bass, was a brutal Hunding, skulking about and menacing in voice and action. Karita Mattila, daringly singing on her haunches (can one think of another soprano who is physically fit enough to sing like that?) was making her role debut as Sieglinde. Her quiet, shy singing was wonderfully apt at first, gaining confidence as the act progressed. And her joyous outburst as she leaves in the last act brought the only mid-act applause of the day. The audience erupted at her curtain call. Simon O’Neill, rolling into Hunding’s hut as if his life depended on it, sang with a true Heldentenor sound (not a pushed up baritone), great energy and remarkable breath control. A bit of nuance may have been welcomed in the Tödesverkundegung from him and Ms Goerke, but I’m nit-picking, and the lack may have been due to the tempi. The Valkyries, flying and running furiously and fearlessly, were all of a unit, all in pitch, and wonderfully concentrated.

Patrick Summers led an intense, story-telling, rather than myth-building performance, with quickish tempi. As hinted above, the Announcement of Death could have used some more gravitas and affection but otherwise, he led the HGO is a remarkable, living performance, with the opening storm starting with a roar and ending with a dark, solo string, the Ride filled with thrills, and a final scene of such sadness and beauty that it left the audience breathless. Breathless and waiting for Siegfried.

Robert Levine | 06 May 2015

Houston Chronicle

Wagner’s musical grandeur meets its match

Among the many daunting challenges Richard Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen” poses to each and every production, one of the trickiest is establishing a visual dimension to match the almost unparalleled grandeur of the music.

As demonstrated by Saturday’s opening of Houston Grand Opera’s “Die Walküre,” second installment in the company’s first-ever “Ring” cycle, the physical production created by Spain’s avant-garde theater La Fura dels Baus constitutes one of the most idiosyncratic, inventive and unorthodox responses to that challenge ever witnessed.

Director Carlus Padrissa’s arresting visuals often dovetail nicely with the mood and meaning of the music, especially the splashy projections on ever-shifting panels, the production’s primary scenic element. Typically apt, the footage accompanying the Act 1 prelude depicts Siegmund’s flight through a wild winter forest, pursued by vulpine creatures, the latter sometimes suggested by a big pair of disembodied eyes. Equally evocative is the vast tree illuminated with ever-changing colors and patterns, which backs the long scene between Siegmund and Sieglinde, the reunited twin siblings destined to become lovers by the act’s close.

Other design elements prove more peculiar than persuasive. During the fateful duel between Siegmund and Hunding (Sieglinde’s husband), a heap of large metallic fragments, resembling train or plane wreckage, slowly rises into the air to form a giant Alexander Calder-esque mobile, with what look like mummified mannequins hanging from the various sections. A comparably bizarre coup occurs at the top of Act 3, when the arrival of Brünnhilde and her sister Valkyries to Valhalla summons a giant orb, rather like a wrecking ball, that swings and spins about the stage, covered with near-naked bodies (again, mannequins) dangling from it – presumably the fallen warriors carried to Valhalla by the Valkyries.

This 21st-century “Die Walküre” evinces influences from the circus to science fiction, especially with the prevalence of projections of blazing suns and star-pocked galaxies. The gadgetry includes several “cherry-picker” cranes, operated by stagehands, that carry Wotan and the other gods in several scenes – surprisingly effective at suggesting the flight of hovering powers above mere earthbound mortals.

Regardless of whether they make the most felicitous illustration for the score, most of the devices are striking, and even the questionable ones at least have originality in their favor.

Meanwhile, the more important half of the equation – the score itself – is brilliantly realized, orchestrally and vocally, in a cohesive rendition that matches authoritative technique with emotional fervor. Patrick Summers’ muscular conducting sustains strength and taut control, shaping the long lines. The orchestra’s expert playing builds each act into the continuous musical texture Wagner intended.

HGO’s production is blessed with a cast equal to the score’s vocal demands – each capable of unleashing awesome power as needed but also of more subtle and humanizing detail.

Rising Wagnerian soprano Christine Goerke brings imposing voice and presence to Brünnhilde, leader of the Valkyries, whose disobedience of her father, Wotan, brings his wrath upon her. She exudes great force and energy, a rash exuberance at times, yet balanced by the grave dignity that distinguishes her portrayal, especially in her tender loyalty to Wotan.

As that domineering yet conflicted god and parent, Iain Paterson wields his stormy bass-baritone with thunderous power and authority. In his case, the other side of the portrayal is a rueful, measured gravitas, especially when meting out dire punishments to favorite daughter Brünnhilde and son Siegmund.

Karita Mattila gives brilliant voice to Sieglinde, with a particularly radiant timbre in her sustained top notes – expressing the character’s soaring spirit despite her degraded circumstances. Simon O’Neill invests Siegmund with a sense of heroism under fire, his stirring tenor epitomizing the character’s strength and perseverance.

Jamie Barton wields impressive vocal clout as Wotan’s bossy wife, Fricka – with a glint of dark humor in her vengeful scheming.

Ain Anger is appropriately surly in voice and characterization as Hunding, Sieglinde’s cruel husband.

Peter van Praet’s dramatic lighting is a definite plus, but the haphazard look of Chu Uroz’s ultra-eclectic costumes doesn’t add much.

The final image, however, of Brünnhilde cast into an enchanted slumber on a circular pallet, surrounded by supernumeraries holding flaming torches, whets the appetite for the next installment of opera’s ultimate cliffhanger.

Everett Evans | April 21, 2015

The Dallas Morning News

Powerhouse singing, fussy visuals, in Houston’s ‘Die Walküre’

By definition, almost any production of Richard Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung, that operatic epic of power and money-grubbing and destructive relationships, is An Event. When Houston Grand Opera last season began a four-year rollout of its first-ever Ring, the audience for Das Rheingold came from 41 U.S. states and 14 other countries.

My heart sank a little with the announcement that Houston was importing Carlus Padrissa’s Ring staging, created with the Barcelona-based theater company La Fura dels Baus and first seen in Valencia, Spain. On DVDs, it struck me as a surfeit of visual effects — too many gimmicks, too little focus. There are better Rings out there.

(The only Ring ever forged in Texas was done by the Dallas Opera, starting in 1981. Although the four operas were later reprised, they were never presented as a cycle.)

Whatever one may think of the Houston production, Padrissa and the cast brought the dramatis personae to life Wednesday in Die Walküre, also splendidly sung and played at the Wortham Theater Center. Conductor Patrick Summers, HGO’s artistic and music director, had a sure command of the music’s rise, fall and trajectory, and, from stirring climaxes to subtle intimacies, the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra played gloriously.

This is Wagner for the attention-deficit crowd. Upstage, video designer Franc Aleu rarely allows a grid of 12 big projection screens to go blank or even static. The forest retreats as Siegmund flees his pursuers. The glassy tree in Hunding’s hut shimmers and writhes. We see clouds and stars and views of Earth from outer space. At mere mention of Wotan’s implanting the sword in the tree, a spectral silhouette is projected doing just that.

All that I get, although I’d be happy to leave more to the imagination. What I don’t get are gods and Valkyries moving about, up and down, on cranes propelled by visible stagehands. Isn’t this taking the deus ex machina thing a little too far? Kudos, though, for deft lighting design by Peter van Praet, realized here by Antonio Castro.

Chu Uroz’ costumes for Wotan, Fricka and the Valkyries suggest a cross between medieval and sci-fi. Animal-skin attire and rasta coifs for Siegfried and Sieglinde remind us of their semilupine bloodlines. Sieglinde, tethered to a hangman’s noose, scuttles along the floor like a chained animal until Siegfried’s love brings her literally to her feet.

Christine Goerke is the Brünnhilde of dreams, progressing from girlish enthusiasm to defiance to tragic acceptance, her soprano thrilling from top to bottom. One could use a little more sheer heft from Iain Paterson’s Wotan, especially when furiously confronting Brünnhilde’s defiance, but he sings with godly substance, dignity and determination. Jamie Barton is a powerhouse Fricka, her beefy but beautiful mezzo dipping into a massive chest voice.

Simon O’Neill has the passion for Siegmund, and the decibels and musicality, but ideally there would be a little less edge, a little more warmth, to the tone. Karita Mattila certainly captures Sieglinde’s wounded desperation, and the middle of the voice remains full and warm. Both top and bottom seem a little hollowed out, but one makes allowances for singing in such awkward positions. One wishes she had essayed the role before age 54.

Completing the cast are Ain Anger’s potent Hunding and as splendid a contingent of Valkyries as you’ll hear anywhere: Julie Makerov, Kelly Kaduce, Catherine Martin, Meredith Arwady, Natalya Romaniw, Eve Gigliotti, Renée Tatum and Faith Sherman.

Apr 25, 2015

classicalvoiceamerica.com

Houston Walküre Showcases Two Starry Sopranos

When casting Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Houston Grand Opera probably didn’t think of the frothy, intriguingly fidelity-testing comedy as a potential breeding ground for future Wagnerians. But that’s what it has turned out to be.

Making her first U.S. stage appearance as Brünnhilde in Die Walküre on April 18, Christine Goerke was HGO’s Fiordiligi eight years earlier.

And Karita Mattila, in her role debut as Sieglinde, established solid Mozartean credentials in Così’s soprano lead not once but twice, in 1988 and again in 1991, when she also sang Donna Anna opposite Thomas Allen’s Don Giovanni and Renée Fleming’s Donna Elvira. Indeed, the 1988 Così fielded an especially fertile Wagnerian farm team. Gösta Winbergh, the Ferrando, went on to sing Lohengrin (HGO 1992), Erik, Parsifal, Walther von Stolzing, and even Tristan.

Die Walküre is the second installment in Houston’s Ring Cycle, which began last season with Das Rheingold and continues through 2017. The cycle marks the American premiere of the project first created by the Catalan theater group La Fura dels Baus in 2007, directed by Carlus Padrissa, and captured on Blu-ray and DVD.

A co-production of Valencia’s Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia and Florence’s Maggio Musicale, it is noted for its innovative use of acrobats and computer-generated imagery. Padrissa also directs the Houston production, which is conducted by Patrick Summers, the company’s music director, who had previously conducted Rheingold and Tristan here. He sometimes let quieter musical lines slacken, but the full-throttle moments packed plenty of drive and punch. And the staging was visually stunning. Placing singers atop mobile cranes prevented any slippage into park-and-bark stasis, and the fallen warriors transported to Valhalla by Brünnhilde and her sisters were arrestingly shown as humans and mannequins dangled in a giant mobile or swung pendulum-like in a huge openwork ball. Padrissa observed Wagner’s call for an eye patch for Wotan, but otherwise he let his fertile imagination give the opera a decidedly (and excitingly) nontraditional look.

Goerke, 45, had sung the rebellious Valkyrie only twice before: in a 2012 concert performance in New Zealand (talk about an out-of-town tryout) and onstage early this year with Toronto’s Canadian Opera Company. But by then, she had already been scheduled to replace Deborah Voigt, who these days seems to be steering her career into the less vocally exacting realm of cabaret and Broadway musicals, in the Metropolitan Opera’s 2018–19 revival of its controversial Robert Lepage Ring Cycle.

There were a few harsh and slightly under-pitch moments in her performance here, but on the whole Goerke met the role’s many demands commandingly. While her middle voice lacks ideal roundness and warmth, her soprano’s strength and quick vibrato (uncommon in these wobble-plagued times) allowed it to pierce Wagner’s heavy orchestration. And she sang and acted with passion and sensitivity, whether sounding her battle cry, informing Siegmund of his imminent death, or pleading for Sieglinde’s safety and Wotan’s forgiveness.

Sieglinde’s theatrical challenges are especially daunting in this production. Director Padrissa has Hunding’s brutalized wife literally live like a dog. Her arms tattooed with a row of geometric shapes, she is leashed with a long rope around her neck, moves about the stage in a crouching duck walk or on all fours, and cringingly hunkers down when not in motion. She finally stands up on understandably shaky legs as Siegmund liberates her. All that must be hard on knees and muscles, but Mattila, 54, took it all in (no pun intended) stride and sang with thrilling richness and steadiness. Her soprano soared with ease in Sieglinde’s ecstatic outpourings, which makes one wonder why she waited so long to tackle the role — and why she now seems to be dabbling in mezzo material.

In the Met’s 2016–17 season, Mattila will essay the Kostelnička in Janáček’s Jenůfa, a role often filled by dramatic mezzos, and in 2017–18 she will appear as Klytämnestra, a haggard character often assigned to veteran mezzos, opposite the Elektra of Goerke.

Goerke and Mattila were supported by several experienced Wagnerians. Simon O’Neill, HGO’s Lohengrin in 2009, has performed Siegmund all over the world, and his Parsifal, Stolzing, and Erik are also well-traveled. He acted stalwartly, catapulting himself into Hunding’s hut with a forward shoulder roll. And his singing was strong and ringing (he seemed to be going for a new length-record on the first-act cries of “Wälse!”), if also at times a bit nasal and lacking in light and shade.

Iain Paterson’s seasoned Rheingold Wotan was seen here last year, and his international résumé includes all the major Wagner baritone roles except, it would seem, Lohengrin’s Telramund. He provided imposing acting and a warm, solid voice capable of both tenderness and heft. Ain Anger has sung all the big Wagner bass roles throughout Europe, and his aptly menacing Hunding boasted booming, ink-black tone. Jamie Barton, Fricka in HGO’s Ring Cycle-launching Rheingold last year, is as new to Wagner as her soprano colleagues, but the vengeful goddess’s music benefited from her full, ripe mezzo.

A combination of sci-fi and Stone Age imagery characterizes the innovative work of set designer Roland Olbeter, costume designer Chu Uroz, lighting designer Peter van Praet, and video designer Franc Aleu. The action unfolds in what look like a planetarium show, a video game, and a snow globe. Stage-filling projections show planets (including Earth), balls of boiling gases, eclipses, a slow-moving comet, gentle snowfalls, the scary eyes of Hunding’s hunting dogs, and the vast blackness of space flecked with pin-point stars. Especially impressive is the sword-bearing tree in Hunding’s hut. With a trunk approaching baobab thickness, it rotates and changes shimmering textures and colors like a cuttlefish.

Hunding’s hut also features a ring of huge animal bones that presages the circle of magic fire that will be lit by a platoon of torch-bearers to protect the sleeping Brünnhilde. The human characters wore tattered clothes or shaggy animal hides, while the gods sported futuristic robes and moved around the stage, bobbing and swooping, atop boom-like cranes propelled and manipulated by dark-clad stagehands. There were cranes for only four of Brünnhilde’s eight Valkyrie sisters, but both the airborne singers and the grounded ones teamed up downstage for a lusty face-front rendition of their iconic Ride.

William Albright | APRIL 23, 2015

Opera News

Houston Grand Opera continued its year-by-year introduction of the La Fura dels Baus staging of Der Ring des Nibelungen with a Walküre that offered the same spectacular effects of last year’s Das Rheingold, but not the same compelling visual-allegorical coherence. As in Rheingold, the co-production — created by La Fura dels Baus for the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia (Valencia) and Maggio Musicale (Florence) — featured a video-enhanced and gods-elevated-and-moved-about-in-cranes staging, an enlarged and sumptuous-sounding HGO Orchestra led by Patrick Summers, and a cast of virtuoso singers.

To start, the HGO Orchestra listened as carefully as it played, producing the rich colors and textures of Wagner’s score but never once creating problems of balance. Among the singers, Christine Goerke stood out for the gusto she demonstrated as Brünnhilde: beyond the power and warmth of her voice, Goerke’s vigorous performance radiated brash confidence. Karita Mattila, by contrast, voiced an enslaved and hobbled Sieglinde with mellow beauty and an affecting born-to-suffer pathos.

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s amazing, even uncanny lower range made Fricka’s Act II quarrel with Wotan a memorable scene: if anyone could turn back Wotan’s plans, it was Barton’s Fricka. Bass-baritone Iain Patterson’s Wotan traversed an expressive range from lordly pride to disillusioned weariness in an inexorable and complete transformation of character that played out in Act II. Tenor Simon O’Neill (Siegmund) and bass Ain Anger (Hunding) completed this remarkable cast of soloists as soulful hero and menacing villain. Each of the Valkyries — sopranos Kelly Kaduce (Helmwige), Julie Makerov (Gerhilde) and Natalya Romaniw (Ortlinde); mezzo-sopranos Catherine Martin (Waltraute), Eve Gigliotti (Siegrune), Renée Tatum (Grimgerde) and Faith Sherman (Rossweisse) and contralto Meredith Arwady (Schwertleite) — created a strong and distinctive character. Together they presented a superabundance of female vocal power.

Director Carlus Padrissa, set designer Roland Olbeter and video designer Franc Aleu brought imagination and deep understanding of Wagner’s Ring to their production: for instance, the sight at the beginning of Act II, of Brünnhilde elevated in a crane above center stage against a video-projected galactic backdrop in rapidly receding motion, must be one of the best possible depictions of the Valkyrie tearing through the heavens. And having a disillusioned, dispirited Wotan walk off the opera stage, through the audience, and out the back of the hall created an effectively momentous exit. Throughout, the artistic decisions of the production team illuminated the leitmotifs of Wagner’s score while also pointing to the larger significance of the events narrated in the singing. Thus, the ash tree in which Nothung is embedded served as a persistent symbol throughout Act I, projected against the backdrop to represent the Wälsungs, the suffering they have experienced and witnessed (red coursed through the tree), and the hope for their future (the tree blossomed).

Notwithstanding a bizarrely cartoonish owl that lighted on a branch of the tree during Siegmund and Sieglinde’s scene together, this approach worked well in Act I, but at other times the production team seems to have lost its inspiration. During Wotan’s Act II monologue, the video-enhanced backdrop became oddly static, displaying the fiery orb of a primeval earth (perhaps to presage the eventual demise of the gods as Wotan bemoans his imprisoning entanglements). At the beginning of Act III, I was nonplussed by the sight of a cluster of humans hanging from a ball-shaped cage at the end of a swinging pendulum. This was part of the gathering of dead heroes collected by the Valkyries, but seeing this pendular orb of bodies as the Valkyries gathered was mystifying, albeit striking. And the ring of fire around Brünnhilde, which should be a coup de théâtre at this culminating and portentous moment, instead offered the flat disappointment of a slow, clumsy, and tentative process of one flame lighting another around a circle of torch-bearing supernumeraries.

In the context of the whole performance and in the larger context of the ongoing HGO Ring cycle, these are quibbles motivated by the visionary standard set by last year’s Rheingold . The HGO performance of Die Walküre stands out in its integration of live theater and cinematic art, and in its demonstration of vocal and orchestral virtuosity. Rheingold had all of this too, but also a coherent interpretation of Wagner’s drama at the most fundamental level: the allegory of a moral conflict between love and greed. I was so swept up by that consistent allegorical-interpretive vision that I missed having more of the same in Walküre.

GREGORY BARNETT | MAY 2015 — VOL. 79, NO. 11

operawarhorses.com

Houston “Walküre” Showcases Christine Goerke’s Astonishing Brünnhilde, Karita Mattila’s Stunning Sieglinde

“Die Walküre”, Houston Grand Opera’s second installment of their one a year commitment to the four operas of Wagner’s “The Ring of the Nibelungs”, is one of the early steps in Christine Goerke’s ascendancy to the title of world’s reigning Wagnerian dramatic soprano.

In the mid-1950s Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson, with her steel-edged power voice, came to be recognized by all the world’s opera houses as the greatest Brünnhilde and Isolde of her time. After her retirement, even though many fine singers assayed these great Wagnerian roles, none achieved the world recognition of being the best performer, to repeat my phrase – “of her time”.

Having attended Nilsson performances over many years (beginning as a junior high school student), I believe that the current excitement about Christine Goerke’s Brünnhilde is fully justified.

Goerke’s vocal insturment has emerged as both extraordinarily powerful (which an artist needs to sustain long periods of singing over the top of a mountain of orchestral sound), yet a subtlety and expressiveness to portray Brünnhilde’s vulnerability and humanity (during four of Brünnhilde six “Ring” acts, she is a human being).

There is a dimension to Goerke’s Brünnhilde that one would not associate with Nilsson. Goerke shows an ability to master the complexities of staging operas in productions that many of Nilsson’s contemporaries (and probably Nilsson herself) would have resisted.

The “Ring” in Houston was created by the theatrical company in Barcelona, Spain, most famous for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1992 Olympics held in Barcelona, This “Ring”, first seen in Valencia, Spain, is the one being seen in Houston.

In the Fura dels Baus production, which was rarely uneventful, Brünnhilde and all the other gods are often strapped into conveyances that thrust them into the sky or back to ground depending on to whom they are conversing or what they are trying to do. Only immortals travel this way. Humans have their own means of locomotion.

Karita Mattila’s Sieglinde

The evening would have been an incredible experience if its only virtue were Goerke’s Brünnhilde. But it would have also been an incredible experience if its only virtue were Karita Mattila’s Sieglinde.

The only character of “Die Walküre to appear in all three acts, Sieglinde has extraordinarily beautiful music in the first act and music with intense emotion in the second. In her relatively brief scene in the third act she intones “O hehrstes Wunder” jubilant in learning that she is carrying the hero Siegfried – one of the great melodic leitmotivs that build one upon another in the “Ring’s” final moments.

Mattila’s Sieglinde sang with the intensity and stylishness we have to associate with this great Finnish opera singer.

Like Goerke’s Brünnhilde, Mattila’s Sieglinde had to cope with the idiosyncrasies of the production, which placed quite different physical demands on Mattila. We know the backstories of Sieglinde and Siegmund, the children of Wotan, raised as if creatures of the animal world. Both Walsung siblings spend much of their time on all fours and move in a duck walk until after Siegmund sings Winterstürme and gains confidence that he will prevail in the next day’s battle with Hunding to the death.

At that point, Mattila’s Sieglinde begins very shakily to walk upright. Throughout the act Mattila’s posture changes to reflect the new information she is processing.

The Fura dels Baus production fuses many elements including projections. Several of the production’s most effective images come in the first act, beginning with the opening storm scene in which we sense we are looking at a forest receding in the distance and occasionally see a running wolf.

Hunding’s house in a large, rotating tree that takes on magical properties.

The musical performance

Patrick Summers, the musical director of the Houston Grand Opera, who has had an important influence on the careers of several of the participants in the opera, was the conductor.

The Siegmund was New Zealand tenor Simon O’Neill, who has become a Houston Grand Opera mainstay in such roles as Lohengrin (with Goerke as Ortrud) [Summers Leads Sumptiously Sung “Lohengrin”: Houston Grand Opera, November 13, 2009] and Otello [Review: O’Neill, Pérez and Vratogna Impressive in Houston Grand Opera’s “Otello” – November 1, 2014].

In addition to his vibrant heldentenor was O’Neill’s mastery of the lyricism that infuses Siegmund’s music in the closing scenes of the opera’s first act. Another rising star, American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, was a fierce Fricka and foil to the Wotan of British baritone Iain Paterson in the critical second scene that forces a change in Wotan’s long-term planning (and ultimately leads to the demise of the gods.)

Esthonian basso Ain Anger, always a consummate artist in the basso roles, made a strong impression as Hunding.

Brünnhilde’s Valkyrie sisters were Kelly Kaduce as Helwige, Meredith Arwady as Schwertleite, Renee Tatum as Grimgerde, Julie Makerov as Gerhilde, Catherine Martin as Waltraute, Natalya Romaniw as Ortlinde, Eve Gigliotti as Siegrune and Faith Sherman as Rossweisse.

The Fura dels Baus Production

Carlus Padrissa directed the production on behalf of the Fura dels Baus. Roland Orbetter created the sets, Chu Uroz created the often elaborate costumes.

The technical staff of Lighting Designer Peter van Priest, Video Designer Franc Aleu, and Lighting Realizer Antonio Castro deserve praise for their parts in bringing forth the often brilliant images and always inventive imagery.

In a production in which constantly moving projections and light images are important to the theatrical experience, it is hard to convey its effect in the theater in production photographs, even granting the special skills that any photographer for an opera house should (must) have.

The Fura dels Baus passed the test for me by the two important criteria I would judge an opera production. Nothing they presented interfered with the story that Wagner told, and nothing done diminished the musical performance.

In its best moments, the production images were memorable, certainly including the creation of the Magic Fire to encircle the disc on which Brünnhilde will sleep until the yet unborn Siegfried comes of age. Wotan, lifted by the mechanical conveyance to a place above the sleeping Brünnhilde, invokes the Magic Fire as the Supernumeraries (until recently crammed together in the heroe’s wrecking ball, now clad in black encircling the disc), each lights a torch.

Recommendation

I recommend this cast with great enthusiasm, and especially the performances of Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde and Karita Mattila as Sieglinde, which I regard of historic significance. I recommend the production for its inventiveness and visual imagery.

William Burnett | April 26, 2015

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Remarks
Webstream
A production by La Fura dels Baus
Possible dates: 18, 22, 25, 30 April and 2 May 2015
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.