Die Walküre

Andrew Davis
Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra
1 November 2017
Lyric Opera Chicago
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegmundBrandon Jovanovich
HundingAin Anger
WotanEric Owens
SieglindeElisabet Strid
BrünnhildeChristine Goerke
FrickaTanja Ariane Baumgartner
HelmwigeAlexandra LoBianco
GerhildeWhitney Morrison
OrtlindeLaura Wilde
WaltrauteCatherine Martin
SiegruneDeborah Nansteel
GrimgerdeZanda Švēde
SchwertleiteLauren Decker
RoßweißeLindsay Ammann

David Pountney’s riveting Walküre opens at the Lyric Opera of Chicago

David Pountney’s new production of Die Walküre for the Lyric Opera of Chicago incisively charts the tectonic shift of control over the future from Wotan to Brünnhilde. Wagner struggled to find a way to portray his meddling, but weakening, god effectively, ultimately relegating him to the musical background of Act I instead of placing him onstage. Visually foregrounding Wotan at the outset (together with the Norns), Pountney does not overestimate the god’s potency. Rather, and to riveting dramatic effect, he invests the Wälsung twins with agency and urgency, complicating Wotan’s plan. With a penetratingly nuanced and flexible orchestral foundation shaped by Sir Andrew Davis, the opening act of this production in particular is an inspiring example of the ways that Wagner’s 19th-century nationalistic drama can speak compellingly to a 21st-century audience.

Hunding, as Wagner pointedly named him, is bound up with a vicious canine realm, and the portrayal of Sieglinde as a chained animal is apt. Elisabet Strid embodied the role with searing and compelling intensity, vocally and physically. Her sympathetic response to Siegmund’s plight was coupled to her desperate desire for freedom, painfully rendered when she rushes toward him but is cut short by her restraining links. She served up bold resistance to Hunding in pointing out that their guest was weaponless, her defiant confidence growing from that point forward. As Siegmund, Brandon Jovanovich did not languish in vague thoughts that a sword will miraculously come his way, but actively scoured Hunding’s hut for means of defense. When his powerful burnished timbre erupted at first mention of the Neidungs, revenge openly became the name of the game. As the axe-bearing Hunding, Ain Anger’s menacing presence was vocally resplendent across his range.

Eric Owens’ entrance as Wotan (his role debut) scored a theatrical coup, descending on a flown in set-piece that initially highlighted his authority but ultimately framed him as severely restricted. Anja Ariane Baumgartner cut a moving Fricka, gloriously costumed as a 1940s socialite, rendered complex and human through vulnerable touches. Wotan’s own weaknesses were fully exposed in his Act 2 monologue, which began as if rooted in the earth’s underbelly in Owens’ sombre interpretation, supported by Davis’ potent orchestral characterization. Persuasive as a striving, frustrated god, Owens’ sympathetic side– potentially a more lyrical one – was less evident in this production.

As Brünnhilde, Christine Goerke’s vocal strengths and reserves amply secured her tenure in the Wagnerian landscape, but I also deeply appreciated her quieter moments of reflection, which threw Wotan’s stern inflexibility into sharp relief. Brünnhilde too was slow to embrace change, appearing on a great equine machine when Siegmund declined her offer of passage to Valhalla. Six dancers – funeral wreath bearers – accompany her ritualistic appearance, visually tracking the reversal of her plans and threat of chaos. The final showdown with Hunding is stylized and dynamic, involving moving platforms, with the gods – Fricka as well as Wotan – as witness in framing towers.

Realized by Robert Innes Hopkins, the set designs of the late Johan Engels magnify key moments of the drama, as when Brünnhilde’s sisters rear up on their mechanical horses when she reveals her willingness to defy Wotan. Openly maneuvered by stagehands, the impressively buoyant machines help energize the musically supercharged opening to the final act. With its wall of corpses strung up in the rear, and much drenched in bright red – a color that elsewhere marks the rope of fate and the Wanderer’s coat, with its tree outline formed by spears/branches – the scene might be too graphic for some but the grim reality of Wotan’s enterprise is transparent. When he later learns that Brünnhilde has saved the fragments of Siegmund’s sword, Wotan slams his spear in a great show of anger, but by this point the Valkyrie is clearly driving the action.

Katherine Syer | 09 novembre 2017


Owens and Goerke Excel As Strained Familial Relationships Draw Focus

Staging a new production of a Ring cycle is always daunting because of history; no other opera is held up in comparison to previous productions more than Wagner’s grand gesamtkunstwerk. How David Pountney’s new production, now halfway complete at Lyric Opera of Chicago, holds up to history remains to be seen after his “Die Walküre” opened Wednesday night in front of an entranced crowd.

His “Das Rheingold,” seen at Lyric last season, was altogether spectacular, with so many of Pountney’s touches memorable ones, including Alberich’s conversion into a frog and the piled-up gold failing to block Fasolt’s vision of Freia. The twins themselves were placed high upon scaffolds with moving hands. Pountney’s vision was of a theatrical production in which stagehands maneuvering aspects of the sets is seen by the audience.

The creative team has said that this Ring cycle will be focused on the story, with the focus in “Walküre” in particular on the frayed relationships between the characters. And that’s where the action picked up with similar devices such as the scaffolds and cranes that help give this production the mechanical look; this is no modern setting yet it isn’t the natural world of the famed Otto Schenk “Ring” at the Met either.

This production also resisted any visual leitmotifs in conjunction with Wagner’s music, so focusing on the relationships is indeed where to begin. And none in “Die Walküre” is more important than the one between father and daughter with bass-baritone Eric Owens as Wotan and soprano Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde. Together they formed as formidable a duo for these roles as any in the opera world.

Wotan of the Future

When Owens sang his Wotan in “Rheingold” a year ago to mark his stage debut in the role, it was a bit surprising how tame his performance was. Any lingering concerns about the gifted Owens was put to rest with a virtuoso tour de force as the henpecked king in the second installment of the tetralogy.

Owens sang with strength, drama and gravitas throughout and showed no signs of fatigue. As good as his fellow cast members were – and they were excellent – Owens appropriately became the linchpin of every scene he was in as its commanding figure.

When he quarrels with Fricka in the beginning of Act two, we empathize with his dilemma in the same vein as any marital conflict. When he denounces Brünnhilde, we recognize that he is conflicted in that his anger is not 100 percent against his daughter, but also to the circumstances he faces. Owens will be synonymous with Wotan as the years progress.

Transcendent Valkyrie

Is it possible that a singer of Goerke’s quality is somehow underrated in the opera world? I have a hard time wondering whether she is best as Turandot, Elektra or as Brünnhilde – three roles in which she regularly delivers emphatic performances.

While Goerke’s power is her calling card, her dramatic skills were also on full display as Wotan’s daughter. From the way in which Brünnhilde was touched by the plight of Siegmund or her interaction with her fellow Valkyries, Goerke epitomizes a woman trying to navigate her way through the emotional tug of war that family often entails. Her Brünnhilde has wowed audiences in Toronto and Houston, with Chicago the latest to experience a level of excellence not often seen.

Distinction Throughout

The three acts of this “Die Walküre” were unique in how they were staged to varying degrees of success. The Act one scene in Hunding’s dwelling was set with a large fallen tree as per Wagner’s stage directions. This scene featured tenor Brandon Jovanovich as Siegmund, soprano Elisabet Strid as Sieglinde in her Lyric debut and bass Ain Anger as Hunding in another house debut. Yet this incestuous love scene between brother and sister somehow didn’t thrill vocally or visually.

The second act began in Valhalla with terrific drama between Owens’ Wotan and Fricka, portrayed once again by mezzo-soprano Tanja Ariane Baumgartner. Fricka’s comment about Wotan’s “boisterous daughter” as she upbraids her husband is part of a scene that does well in setting up the events ahead. Just as the fight between the twins in Rheingold was on raised platform, the fight between Siegmund and Hunding is staged the same way as the action starts to unravel in front of a discombobulated Wotan.

The third act with the Valkyries features some of the other sisters mounted on horses in a fairly common conceit perhaps best expressed in the 1985 Rochaix ring in Seattle. The Valkyries are clad in red and showcase their appetite for blood with male corpses that may not have made complete sense to the proceedings. How Pountney encircles Brünnhilde in flames is definitely suspenseful and happens after the full emotional power of Wotan and Brünnhilde is seen in their parting.

Wagner Done Right

Conductor Sir Andrew Davis and the orchestra did a fine job in more than augmenting what was on stage in bringing forth the drama. This was especially the case because in truth parts of “Walküre” can get tedious as expected for any work of this length. It’s a definite that this production will gain polish with each subsequent performance and my plan is to see this epic staging yet again during this run to further unpack its mysteries.

Santosh Venkataraman | November 5, 2017

Chicago Tribune

Stage tricks sometimes misfire in Lyric’s musically strong new ‘Walkure’

Welcome to the grandest of all dysfunctional-family dramas.

With Richard Wagner’s “Die Walkure” (“The Valkyrie”) we move from the fairy tale realm of gods, giants and dwarfs in “Das Rheingold” — the prologue to the composer’s mammoth cycle “Der Ring des Nibelungen” — to the world of human beings and human emotions. A world where the power compromises that the god Wotan arrogantly made in the earlier opera come home to roost.

“Die Walkure,” the second installment of David Pountney’s new production of Wagner’s monumental “Ring” tetralogy, arrived Wednesday night at Lyric Opera of Chicago, sounding great and looking handsome, albeit saddled with directorial quirks some Wagnerians will find distracting, as some of us did with the British director’s “Rheingold” last season.

Once again the singing by a splendid international cast, the stylish conducting of music director Andrew Davis, the fine orchestral work and production values all are of the highest international caliber.

Pountney’s approach, in which set elements including giant cranes flying the warrior-maiden Brunnhilde and her eight Valkyrie sisters are manipulated in plain sight of the audience by an efficient team of 16 mimelike actors, is based on telling the saga straightforwardly, without polemics or ideological posturing. That’s refreshing as far as it goes. Too bad Pountney dresses up the narrative with a couple of dubious inventions one found unhelpful to the drama.

For all its epic scale and five-hour length, “Walkure” is essentially a series of two-character confrontations. Not the least of these is the god-king Wotan’s Act 2 narrative to the Valkyrie Brunnhilde, his favorite daughter, in which he foresees the end of the gods, and the final scene of Act 3 in which he bids her a touching farewell.

Lyric’s magisterial Wotan, bass-baritone Eric Owens, delivered the narrative with anguished intensity, the farewell with aching poignancy, opposite the charismatic Brunnhilde of Christine Goerke, like him in splendid voice from beginning to end of the performance.

Owens brought a larger-than-life dramatic quality to the deeply conflicted god who realizes he is the cause of the gods’ unmaking. There was nobility in everything he sang, and the father-daughter chemistry was affectingly drawn.

Goerke, America’s top dramatic soprano, was in vocally sumptuous, dramatically incisive command of a Wagnerian heroine she has made her own. She poured out easy floods of gleaming, penetrating, plush sound, scaling her ample voice to a whisper wherever needed. What’s more, she was fully invested in the Valkyrie’s emotional trajectory, from coltish teenager to empathetic dea ex machina (literally — she bestrode an equine crane for the Annunciation scene) to chastened object of her father’s wrath.

The Wotan-Fricka scene, usually a weaker moment in “Walkure,” turned out to be one of the highlights, with the alluring German mezzo-soprano Tanja Ariane Baumgartner, her sound rich and full, answering each of her errant hubby’s protestations with triumphant certitude.

Act I began promisingly enough, with Wotan-as-stage-manager conjuring Hunding’s bare hut — table, chairs and an ash tree snaking over the stage like a brontosaurus neck — from a bare stage, the storytelling stratagem Pountney and his production team — set designer Robert Innes Hopkins (realizing the original designs of the late Johan Engels), costumer Marie-Jeanne Lecca and lighting designer Fabrice Kebour — are adopting for the entire cycle.

But the feverish sexual longing between the Volsung twins Siegmund (Brandon Jovanovich, vocally strong, passionate and athletic of manner) and Sieglinde (the dramatically intense albeit vocally tight soprano Elisabet Strid, in her Lyric debut) was curiously low-voltage on opening night, while Davis’ conducting of this magnificent act appeared to be more concerned with lyrical expansion than with dramatic urgency, leaving the act bereft of some of its pulse. The beautifully vocalized Hunding of Estonian bass Ain Anger, also a house debut, came off as a terrifying sexist ogre who wielded a lethal-looking ax and kept his terrified wife chained to the ash tree.

I enjoyed the superbly engineered Valkyries’ ride in which the vocally hearty octet of warrior-maidens flew across the stage-heavens. But it was a major miscalculation to have other Valkyries wheeling the bloodied cadavers of fallen heroes around the stage in gurneys, to be strung up on netting at stage rear. The would-be whimsical staging of that scene stood at odds with Wagner’s intentions.

Pountney almost redeems such distractions in the great finale where Wotan kisses away Brunnhilde’s godhead and puts her to sleep atop a fire-ringed rock. I won’t spoil the surprise by revealing details, but the video-assisted effect is brilliantly achieved, with relatively simple means. It almost (but not quite) makes up for the director’s having a clutch of dirty young men in trenchcoats advancing on the terrified Brunnhilde while Wotan is declaring her fate.

With Lyric’s new “Walkure,” Davis is celebrating his 30th anniversary at Lyric in style. One admired the wealth of instrumental detail and magnificent floods of Wagnerian sonority he drew from the orchestra, augmented to include a set of Wagner tubas and four harps. But one did find some of his tempos sluggish and a lack of drive disconcerting.

John von Rhein | November 3, 2017


Heroic singing, lots of blood, and Wagner caught in a muddle

There are times in opera when great singing rises above problematic production. Voices triumph over Konzept. But not even a glorious performance by bass-baritone Eric Owens – or the exemplary musical leadership of Andrew Davis – could compensate for the sum of gruesome design and muddle-headed staging heaped upon Wagner’s “Die Walküre” at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

This “Walkure” is the second installment in the Lyric’s four-year project to create an all-new cycle of Wagner’s prodigious tetralogy “Der Ring des Nibelungen” – the legend of the curse of the Rhine gold, and how its promise of insuperable power first corrupted the gods, then led inexorably to their destruction. It’s a 17-hour morality tale that took Wagner some 25 years to write (both text and music), and an ever-apposite mirror to the human imperfections of venality and greed.

Siegmund (Brandon Jovanovich) and Sieglinde (Elisabet Strid) revel as siblings and newfound lovers.If the Lyric’s take last season on the first opera in the “Ring” cycle, “Das Rheingold,” was off the wall with its cartoonish puppet-giants, it was also witty, focused and attuned to the spirit of the work. As the set-up piece, “Das Rheingold” explains how the misshapen dwarf Alberich forswears love in order to seize the Rhine Maiden’s lump of gold and forge it into an all-powerful ring, and how Wotan, king of the gods, tricks Alberich out of the ring only to be forced to surrender it in payment for the construction of his fine new palace, Valhalla.

Because he cannot simply steal the ring back, lest by such an overtly corrupt act he invalidate his authority altogether, Wotan must find an independent agent who on his own initiative might repossess the ring. But of course Wotan might nudge such a development along, which brings us to “Die Walküre.” Mating with a human woman, the god-king sires two mortal children: Siegmund and Sieglinde. They are separated as babes when, one day while her father and brother are away, Sieglinde is stolen by an enemy clan and forced into a marriage of servitude to a savage chap called Hunding.

“Die Walküre” – the Valkyrie, one of Wotan’s immortal warrior-daughters who appears later in the opera – begins with the grown, orphaned Siegmund (tenor Brandon Jovanovich) showing up, exhausted from flight, at the door of Hunding’s hut. There he finds Sieglinde (soprano Elisabet Strid) leashed by a heavy chain while her husband is out hunting. The siblings do not at first recognize each other.

It bears mentioning here that Wagner’s idea of opera was drama elevated by music: perfect theater, or what he called Gesamtkuntswerk, a completely integrated artwork. And this first scene between the handsome young stranger and the desolate woman in chains appeared headed toward all of that, splendid in every aspect both musical and dramatic.

Brunnhilde (Christine Goerke) watches over Siegmund (Brandon Jovanovich) and the sleeping Sieglinde (Elisabet Strid).Jovanovich’s effortless, full-bodied and expressive singing was matched by Strid’s blend of lustrous sound and keening desperation. Then Hunding showed up, Sieglinde’s chains came off, and director David Pountney’s scheme of interaction between the lusty youngsters soon turned bizarre.

Pressing Siegfried to tell his woeful history, Hunding realizes that his guest is also his sworn enemy. Hunding informs Siegmund that at sunup, his life is forfeit. Whereupon the host retires for the night. And Sieglinde transforms, in this staging, from battered wife to something like an abused puppy, if not a mad woman. Strid rolled about on the floor, now shrinking into a fetal curl, now pawing Siegmund – to put it euphemistically. Seigmund returned her ardor in kind. When he spotted the sword Wotan has left for him, buried up to the hilt in an ash tree at the center of Hunding’s parlor, Siegfried brandished it with visually double-edged meaning – the stuff of Shakespearean farce.

In short time, the kids have put two and two together. They may be long lost siblings, but they’re also each other’s metaphorical springtime, which Jovanovich and Strid declared in a radiant turn through perhaps the opera’s most inspired music. This despite the director’s odd blocking. These awakening lovers sing about the light in each other’s eyes, the magic in each other’s gaze – all while looking away from each other, from far corners of the stage. Hello! This is a love scene.

Siegmund addresses Sieglinde as his beloved sister and wife, and off they race into the spring night – though not very far in Pountney’s reckoning. Lest viewers failed to grasp the basic urge at work here, it was spelled out. The steaming lovers tumbled to the ground to make the beast with two backs, countering Wagner’s poetic consummation in the orchestra with a gesture obvious and crass.

Hunding (Ain Anger) discovers that his guest is also his arch enemy. The crisis of “Die Walkure” arises in Act II, where we first meet Brünnhilde, the opera’s eponymous Valkyrie and Wotan’s favorite among his warrior-daughters. In effect, Brünnhilde (the vocally shining Christine Goerke) is Wotan’s second self, his will. She is certainly his right hand, and in the coming clash between Hunding and Siegmund, the Valkyrie is armed and ready to ensure Siegmund’s triumph – as well as his getaway with Sieglinde and the unborn child who will retrieve the all-powerful ring.

Ah, but a speed bump looms ahead: Wotan’s wife Fricka (Tanja Ariane Baumgartner), protectress of marriages, is in a fuming rage over Wotan’s not-so-sly scheme and insists that Siegmund must die by Hunding’s hand. Baumgartner is a majestic Fricka, in presence and voice alike. The goddess has right on her side; Wotan knows it, and he caves. He will call Brünnhilde off. In supreme voice and with compelling dramatic force, Owens delivered what is basically a long lecture to Brünnhilde, insisting that she carry out his command, though it’s the furthest thing from his heart’s wish – ambivalence that the Valkyrie fully grasps.

And in the end, she doesn’t do Wotan’s bidding. In a tormented, brilliantly sung confrontation between Jovanovich’s Siegmund and Goerke’s Brünnhilde, the Valkyrie capitulates and thus elicits Wotan’s irreversible condemnation. She will be banished, lose her immortal condition and fall into a deep sleep on a high rock, there to await subjugation to the first man who comes upon her.

Wotan’s wife Fricka (Tanja Ariane Baumgartner) derails Wotan’s plan on moral grounds. This is the scene of Wotan’s famous farewell, which Owens infused with equal parts of tenderness and stern resolve. But again, Pountney seemed unsure about how to maneuver his characters. Goerke did little more than shrink away in horror, then plunge back in heartfelt appeal. Away and back, yoyo-like.

All that, however, comes at the end of the opera. Before we get there, we must slog through knee-deep blood in what I might call the Charnel House of Chicago: the gathering place of the Valkyries, whose main task is to collect the souls of fallen mortal warriors for transfer into the divine military.

Again unwilling to trust the viewer’s imagination, the “Ring” project’s late designer, Johan Engels, and his successor, Robert Innes Hopkins, give us transparent, full-length body bags containing corpses and oozing with blood. Other bodies are suspended in netting upstage. The arriving Valkyries – mounted on crane-supported horses — are likewise smeared with the rouge spills of their task.

In the midst of this gory spectacle sounded the Valkyries’ well-known anthem, music that now seemed almost incidental, all but untrackable. Only when I closed my eyes could I really hear the sonorous magic that Andrew Davis drew from the Lyric Opera Orchestra: music rhythmically sprung, vital, rich, clear and embracing. Unstained by that rank visual carnage.

Lawrence B. Johnson | Nov 4, 2017


A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

The mortal twins Siegmund and Sieglinde are Brandon Jovanovich and Elisabet Strid. Hunding is sung by Ain Anger and Fricka by Tanja Ariane Baumgartner. The sisters of Brünnhilde are portrayed by Whitney Morrison, Alexandra LoBianco, Catherine Martin, Lauren Decker, Laura Wilde, Deborah Nansteel, Zanda Švēde, and Lindsay Ammann. The Lyric Opera Orchestra is conducted by its music director Sir Andrew Davis. The production is directed by David Pountney with scenery by Johan Engels and by Robert Innes Hopkins, costumes by Marie-Jeanne Lecca, and lighting by Fabrice Kebour. Mmes. Strid and LoBianco and M. Anger make their debut at Lyric Opera of Chicago in this production.

As the curtain rises Wotan appears briefly while holding his spear of authority and justice. During the orchestral introduction the ash tree, into which Wotan had previously plunged his sword, descends onto the stage into the midst of Hunding’s dwelling. Figures representing the three Norns and assistants push Hunding’s domestic table into place; Sieglinde, now alone, moves about, held by an extended chain attached to the tree. As a door at stage rear opens, Siegmund stumbles into the presumed haven. Visibly worn by battle, Mr. Jovanovich utters the lines “Hier muss ich rasten!” (“I have to recover here!”) with a gasp of desperate hope. Ms. Strid’s reaction shows an immediate sympathy for the weakened man seeking refuge. Her vocal color and range are ideal in portraying Sieglinde’s solicitous curiosity and her subsequent statements to Siegmund describing her own plight. From low pitches on “ihn muss ich fragen” (“I must find out where he’s from”) to the higher, palpable emotion with which she sings “noch schwillt ihm der Atem” (“I hear him still breathing”), Strid invests her lines with an anticipation matching the introductory tone set by Jovanovich. The refreshment of water once provided is followed by a lush orchestral performance of the love motif under Davis’s taught direction. In Sieglinde’s identification of home and self as “Hundings Eigen” (“belonging to Hunding”) Strid’s words are fraught with tension. Once both characters drink from the mead-vessel, Jovanovich’s voice blooms with noble color in describing his flight from the pursuit of “Misswende” (“ill fate”). In response to Sieglinde’s tentative yet clear invitation, the hero names himself “Wehwalt” and declares with assured resolve, “Hunding will ich erwarten” (“I intend to await Hunding here”). At the close of the scene each character sits alone at the base of a tower positioned on opposite sides of the stage, an indication of burgeoning attraction stunted by the domestic atmosphere and spirit of Hunding.

The entrance of Hunding, the lord and husband, injects a tone of caution and formality into the closed interior of the dwelling. Mr. Anger’s deep, resonant intonation emphasizes Hunding’s suspicion while asking after Siegmund and later during his visual comparison of the guest to Sieglinde. After reassurances of the law of hospitality, expressed by Anger with rich vibrato, Siegmund is encouraged to name himself. Upon complying, Siegmund also volunteers the story of his youth in the forest together with his father Wolfe. Here Jovanovich sings excited pitches on “Zwillingsschwester” (“twin sister”), then drifts to a piano lament at “kaum habe ich sie gekannt” (“I scarcely knew her”) when narrating the disappearance of both mother and sister. While telling of Siegmmund’s progressive isolation from father Wolfe and from potential friend or wife, Jovanovich sings the final line explaining his name with a hushed delivery of “Wehwalt … des Wehes walte’ ich nur” (“Wehwalt … only sadness was ascribed to me”). After describing his battle against a cruel race that tried to force a maiden into marriage, Siegmund’s extended pitches on “Friedmund – nicht heisse!” (“not called – Friedmund!”) identify him as Hunding’s enemy. From this point forward, the focus shifts from the past to an imminent struggle with future consequences. Anger’s chilling notes on “Sippenblut” (“clan’s blood”), and his vow to avenge it against the hero “Wehwalt,” prompts several violent movements. He throws his wife to the floor and demands from her his evening draught. Before departing grimly from the scene, Hunding casts a battle-axe into the communal table.

In the final scene of Act I Siegmund searches desperately for a weapon with which to counter Hunding’s threat. The dramatic cries of “Wälse! Wälse! Wo ist dein Schwert?” (Wälse! Wälse! Where is your sword?”) become endlessly held pitches by Jovanovich until the light of the glowing weapon catches his eye. When Sieglinde returns to the hearth, she indicates that Hunding has been drugged and that Siegmund should escape. Strid’s highly dramatic declamation of the narrative “Der Männer Sippe” (“My husband’s kinsmen”) becomes a catalyst for emotional and scenic development. Siegmund embraces her and reveals his love, whereupon the door at stage rear opens revealing the wonders of a springtime scene. During their subsequent duet spontaneous displays of genuine affection are here a natural extension of love through song. These displays render believable Jovanovich’s emotional declaration “Heiligster Minne höchste Not” (“Holiest love in highest need”) when he prepares to pull the sword Notung from the ash tree. As a joint impulse and with the future in mind the two principals escape from the confines of Hunding’s dwelling onto the spring heather, where their physical love is consummated.

The start of Act II in this production is ultimately bound to the previous space, yet now from the perspective of the immortal beings. The brief opening introduces Wotan and Brünnhilde, the latter giddy as she trips through the spring heath. The stage then assumes horizontal division with Wotan appearing on an upper level and Brünnhilde remaining below. The expected battle between Siegmund and Hunding fills Mr. Owens’s voice with rich excitement, as he instructs Brünnhilde to stand by Siegmund (“dem Wälsung kiese sie Sieg” [“let her assure victory for the Wälsung”]). Ms. Goerke in turn acquiesces with equivalent excitement and the exemplary performance of her repeated “Hojotoho!” with decorative trills inserted after each cry. Yet the mood of adventure fades just as Goerke reports with a decidedly expressive frown that Fricka approaches. Two central doors on Wotan’s raised station open, enabling Fricka – dressed similar to Wotan in formal attire befitting rank – to emerge from her chariot and demand an audience from her husband. In the role of Wotan’s wife and protector of marriage, Ms. Baumgartner assumes at once the position of a goddess slighted. She presents details of the infraction with deep resonant pitches, then rises vocally to emotional outbursts against the incestuous union at “ich klage!” (“I accuse”) and “Geschwister sich liebten?” (“the siblings as lovers?”). Despite Owens’s passionate defense of the twins’ innocent love, accompanied again by the orchestral spring motif, this Fricka reminds him imperiously of his own less than faithful treatment of marital vows. When Baumgartner demands that the sword, with a telling emphasis on “zauberstark” (“associated with magic”) be taken back, Wotan’s plan for the hero is clearly halted. She continues to press her case against Siegmund until Owens asks, with his voice descending to a statement of deep resignation, “Was verlangst du?” (“What must I do?”). His final words to Fricka, “Nimm den Eid!” (“Take my oath!”) capture decisiveness here and the duty of Brünnhilde to intercede in recovering Fricka’s honor.

The following scenes of Act II are admirably staged in natural progression. Wotan’s balcony descends so that he stands on Brünnhilde’s level to meet her return. In his intimate exchange with Brünnhilde, Owens narrates as “unaugesprochen,” with the hush of privacy, the story of the ring, Erda, and the Walküren. Wotan’s voice shakes with emotion as Owens declares forte that he seeks only “das Ende” (“the ending”) to what he has caused. Despite his daughter’s protests Wotan threatens chastisement if Brünnhilde does not assure the victory of Hunding. The stage platform lifts Wotan again to the elevation of his power while Brünnhilde realizes, beset with gloom below, her task.

Siegmund and Sieglinde appear in flight from Hunding’s wrath. Despite his encouragement to continue, Sieglinde relates her hysterical fears from dreams of the sword breaking in battle. Jovanovich’s tender replies of “Schwester” (“Sister”) coax her into a fitful sleep. Brünnhilde’s approach bearing shield and cloak is greeted by Siegmund as “schön und ernst” (“beautiful and somber”). When Goerke informs him with ceremonial dignity that she has come as a messenger of death to ensure his entrance into Walhall, the hero asks if he will find there his father and be joined by Sieglinde. At the denial of this second hopeful request, Jovanovich replies with grim resolution, “… folg ich dir nicht” (“ … I shall not follow you there”). Goerke then circles the stage through the air on an elevated steed perched on a crane manipulated from below. Despite her emotional supplications to consider honor and “ewige Wonne” (“eternal joy”) as a slain hero, Siegmund refuses to ignore his companionship of Sieglinde. The Walküre’s declaration that she can understand the hero’s suffering is expressed here with moving empathy, leading to her ultimate defiance of Wotan’s will. When Goerke announces with searing determination “Beschlossen ist’s” (“It is decided”), the course of the remaining action is set. In his final address to Sieglinde Jovanovich incorporates achingly soft melismatic phrases into what becomes a touching farewell. Battle horns accompany a transformation of scene: Wotan and Fricka appear on the towers at opposite sides of the stage, with Siegmund and Hunding on raised platforms closer to the center. When Wotan allows Siegmund’s sword to shatter, causing his death at the hand of Hunding, Fricka’s will is complete. With Owens calling excitedly for Brünnhilde’s punishment, the orchestra swells to accompany Fricka’s contented smile as she gazes, at stage center, upon Wotan’s spear of justice.

The musical and dramatic excitement of the opening scene of Act III is imaginatively staged and costumed. The Walküre sisters appear variously on elevated horses, reminiscent of Brünnhilde’s steed, and at work on stage level, while they prepare or direct the transport of fallen heroes to the honor of Walhall. When Brünnhilde appears shielding Sieglinde, Goerke utters her line “Schützt mich!” (“Protect me!”) with frantic appeal. Before the arrival of Wotan, she is able to transform Sieglinde’s desperation into thoughts of her future child and an escape into the forest. During the following scene the sisters attempt to conceal Brünnilde before Wotan’s wrath. Instead they become witnesses to his public condemnation of the favored child. Here Owens delivers Wotan’s address with powerful declamation in his pronouncement that she will no longer fill his drinking horn in Walhall. Indeed she is, with Owens’s dramatically conclusive pitch, “verbannt” (“banished”).

In the opera’s last scene, the Walküren have retreated at Wotan’s command and left father and daughter alone for the reckoning of punishment. The emotionally wrenching dialogue between the two principal singers is here sung and acted by Goerke and Owens as an ultimate, moving confrontation. When Goerke declares, with sustained top pitches, that in her way she remained loyal to Wotan, Owens concedes with resignation that duty forced him to change his resolve. In their simple clasp of hands both figures show here the inevitable resolution of the story. Brünnhilde, now as a mortal, is surrounded by the bridal fire to be discovered only by the bravest hero. The masterfully played orchestral conclusion seals this unforgettable production.

Salvatore Calomino | 24 Nov 2017

Opera News

LYRIC OPERA OF CHICAGO made a splendid second entry into Wagner’s Ring on November 1 with a gripping, daringly sexy account of Die Walküre. The production continues Lyric’s cycle from stage director David Pountney, which is set for completion in 2019, with three full cycles planned for spring of 2020.

Christine Goerke’s passionate Brünnhilde was sung with formidable power and nuance and graced with shimmering tone throughout. By the final scene, after hours of strenuous vocalizing, the soprano was still singing entirely within her means, floating passages with astonishingly fresh, even girlish tone. Bass-baritone Eric Owens delivered a majestic Wotan, distinguished by a warm, enveloping timbre that remained weighty and rock-solid from his protracted Act II narration through his heartbreaking Abschied.

As Siegmund, Brandon Jovanovich delivered some of the finest singing of his Lyric career. The climaxes were potently hurled forth with no evidence of strain, and his perceptive acting was most telling. His Sieglinde, Swedish soprano Elisabet Strid, proved herself a fervent singing actress with a commanding jugendlich dramatic soprano to match. The erotic frisson between the two was so intense that one often felt like a voyeur. Ain Anger brought a dark, cavernous bass to his menacing Hunding, and it was interesting to experience this role with a young, sexually threatening interpreter, rather than the frequently encountered hulk. Tanja Ariane Baumgartner’s sumptuous vocalizing ensured that Fricka’s indignant demands emerged as the crux of the narrative, as is too rarely the case.

Pountney’s staging, with settings by the late Johan Engels (realized by Robert Innes Hopkins) that are washed in Fabrice Kebour’s lighting, built intelligently on the foundation laid by last season’s Rheingold. The wooden, industrial-era scaffolding was back, as were the nimble stagehands who visibly manipulated the stage machinery. The cantilevered dollies were back too, here facilitating flights of Valkyries upon silvery steeds. Costumier Marie-Jeanne Lecca forsook the Rheingold gods’ Rococo fairy-tale wardrobe for the slinky glamour of old Hollywood. Valhalla was a nouveau riche-style foyer that descended from above, while Hunding’s abode was a virtually bare stage bisected diagonally with an unmistakably phallic ash tree. Sieglinde was kept tethered to it with a chain; thus Hunding’s chilling command upon releasing her that she go prepare his drink and wait for him in bed was palpably disturbing. The magic fire was a theatrical coup, as Loge was revealed twirling acrobatically in a projected furnace of flame.

Certain elements were dubious. Brünnhilde’s fear of possession by an unworthy man was punctuated with a gang of creepy lowlifes who clustered about to leer at her, an unnecessary invention. The unflinching depiction of the Valkyries’ bloody bounty was also questionable, as a sea of mutilated corpses and seeping body bags rather suggested that their ride took place at the Six Flags Fright Fest. The singing overrode objection, however, as the present production’s Valkyries were easily the most thrilling assemblage heard at Lyric in more than two decades.

Conductor Andrew Davis and his players did a magnificent job in the pit. A raucous ovation heard when the orchestra stood before Act III was one of the loudest in memory. For those who love Wagner, this production was essential. For those who don’t, Lyric’s new Die Walküre just might change their minds.

Mark Thomas Ketterson | 24 Nov 2017


Pountney’s Lyric Opera Die Walküre Exceeds Expectations

Die Walküre, the second part of Lyric’s new production of Wagner’s Ring cycle, involves an international cast in a thoroughly engaging presentation. David Pountney offers a vivid steampunk conception, demonstrating an effective combination of technologies to create effects and to shape the stage.

Some of the more audacious aspects, like the famous ‘Ride of the Valkyries’, echo Zubin Mehta’s daring Ring cycle at Barcelona’s Liceu and similarly, make Pountney’s staging visually fresh. It was thrilling to see the airborne Valkyries taking delight, with the full-voiced splendor the music requires. The ‘Magic Fire’ also had a vivid effect, even if the technology surpassed the sometimes contrived attempt to create the magic described in the libretto. While much in Wagner’s mythological world is left to the imagination, Pountney deserves credit for exceeding expectations.

Similar to her memorable Cassandra in last season’s Les Troyens, Christine Goerke made a magnificent Brünnhilde. Goerke surpassed the notated demands of the score to create moving aural images, as in the second act’s Todesverkündigung (death announcement) in which she warns Siegmund about Wotan’s decision to let Hunding kill him for transgressing the marriage bond. Fully in command of the line, Goerke gave this critical scene the vocal and dramatic nuances it requires. In the final act, her duet with Eric Owens was touching, creating a humanely moving conclusion.

Elisabet Strid was captivating as Sieglinde, starting in the first act with her stylish love duet with her long-lost brother, and combined ringing tone with excellent diction. Similarly, making a strong impression in his Lyric debut in this work, Ain Anger’s Hunding was distinguished by clearly enunciated lines that gave ample explication of his antipathy for Siegmund. As Fricka, Tanja Ariane Baumgartner showed assertiveness, along with exceptional articulation and resonance.

Brandon Jovanovich used his command of pitch and line to create an earnest and engaging Siegmund, ever the striving hero that Wotan describes. The role requires consummate musicianship, and Jovanovich added impressive physicality to make Siegmund’s struggles plausible.

Likewise, Eric Owens made a nuanced Wotan, as the story shifted from the world of the gods to the human domain. His second-act monologue was particularly effective, reflecting Wotan’s growing impatience. As strongly as Owens depicted Wotan’s anger, his touching embrace at the end of the third act had an extraordinary intimacy. In making Brünnhilde human, Wotan gained his own humanity, and Owens capped his performance with a poignant conclusion.

The orchestra was also first-rate, meeting the challenges of the score with expert delivery and precision. Sir Andrew Davis showed himself to be a formidable Wagner interpreter, and delivered a well-paced and moving performance. During the curtain call, a few in the audience were determined to utter their displeasure, but the overall enthusiasm for Lyric’s efforts drowned out the naysayers with loud acclaim.

James L. Zychowicz | 09/11/2017

The New York Times

Lyric Opera of Chicago Offers Very Theatrical ‘Die Walküre’

Many productions of Wagner’s “Die Walküre” stage the “Ride of the Valkyries” scene as a rowdy reunion. We see eight Valkyrie sisters, who arrive on their flying steeds, assemble at a mountaintop to greet one another giddily.

Of course, these warrior maidens have weighty responsibilities. At the command of their father, Wotan, they must bring the bodies of fallen heroes to Valhalla, revive them, and then press them into service defending this fortress of the gods. That’s what the director David Pountney emphasizes in his very theatrical new production of “Die Walküre” for the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the second installment of the company’s complete “Ring” cycle, which began last season with a new “Das Rheingold.” I attended Friday’s performance.

In this staging, the bloodied bodies of the fallen are everywhere: hanging like corpses on a huge rope net at the back of the stage; lying limp on surgical tables; stuffed in body bags tethered to the horses of Valkyries, who deposit them with a thud on the ground. This place is a combination sweatshop and emergency ward. The grind has become routine for these boisterous, singing Valkyries, in their crimson-red work dresses, who sponge down the dead bodies, cleanse limbs with water hoses, and try to slap them awake.

Their flying steeds here become metal horses on long-armed cranes that rise and fall and roll on wheels — operated by a visible crew of stagehands. The conceit of Mr. Pountney’s “Ring” involves a behind-the-scenes look at a performing troupe presenting a show in an old theater. We see the mechanics of all the stage tricks.

There is resonance to this concept. The stories of the old myths and legends, including Wagner’s “Ring” operas, have been told many times before. We are watching these players tell this one again.

The production is full of entertaining touches and striking imagery. If Mr. Pountney has any particular interpretive take on Wagner’s work, I didn’t see it; the same was true of his “Rheingold.” But the staging is certainly theatrical, and Mr. Pountney lays out the story clearly.

He also excels at drawing compellingly acted performances from a strong cast, starting here with the soprano Christine Goerke, an arresting Brünnhilde. In the time since her first staged Brünnhilde in Toronto in early 2015 Ms. Goerke has made this role her own. (She will sing it when the Metropolitan Opera revives Robert Lepage’s “Ring” next season.) That her singing on Friday was so sumptuous, powerful and exciting was no surprise. Her Valkyrie war cries rang with steely brilliance; her frantic pleas to her sisters to protect her from Wotan’s wrath had tremulous intensity. She brought disarming vulnerability to the moments when this feisty Brünnhilde was caught up in emotional confusion, especially the long scene in Act II when Wotan unburdens himself to his favorite child and tells the whole sorry saga of the mistakes he made trying to gain more power.

The bass-baritone Eric Owens is a magnificent Wotan. His first crack at the role came last season here with the Lyric Opera’s “Rheingold.” Though that performance had dignity and vigor, vocally he sounded a little underpowered.

That was not a problem during Friday’s “Walküre.” With a stentorian voice and crisp diction, he sent Wotan’s phrases soaring into the house. And this god’s dilemma, the way he has enslaved himself, as he tells Brünnhilde, by finagling with covenants he is supposed to enforce, came through achingly during this heartbreaking scene. As presented here, Wotan and his wife, Fricka (the rich-voiced mezzo-soprano Tanja Ariane Baumgartner), could be a wealthy robber baron in the late 19th century and his entitled-acting spouse.

If he appealing tenor Brandon Jovanovich lacked a little vocal heft as Siegmund, he sang with burnished sound and deep feeling, and conveyed the sadness of a rootless young person who does not even know he’s a demigod, the son of Wotan. The impressive soprano Elisabet Strid, as Sieglinde, sang with radiant, focused sound and poignant expressive shadings. She and Mr. Jovanovich were profoundly moving during Act I as these long-separated twins realize their connection and fall helplessly in love.

Mr. Pountney made a bad call in his staging by having Sieglinde’s bullying husband Hunding (the bass Ain Anger in a menacing performance) chain her to the tree in his hut when he’s away. No physical restraint keeps miserable Sieglinde in this abusive marriage. She is terrified. But Hunding has also beaten her down, made her feel like a powerless nobody.

Andrew Davis conducted an uncommonly warm and flowing performance of Wagner’s score — almost too much so. There were stretches when subdued passages, for all the beauty of the playing, lost suspense and tension. But the episodes of high drama had plenty of vigor and clarity. And perhaps the restraint Mr. Davis brought to bear balanced out the theatricality of the staging to good effect.



A stunning set, gorgeous orchestral colors, and exquisite vocal performances

The opening of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Die Walküre was a thrilling spectacle to behold. Operagoers who were fortunate enough to experience the five-hour event were spellbound by a stunning set, gorgeous orchestral colors, and exquisite vocal performances.

This production exposes the magic behind the theatrics. It takes place in a theater where the audience can clearly see the stagehands roll set pieces around and act as puppeteers, manipulating the movements of horses carrying Brünnhilde and her Valkyrie sisters. The production opens with the setting of the stage – literally. As the storm rages in the orchestra, Wotan directs the placement of set pieces, instructing the great ash to descend from above into Hunding’s home. Two chairs adorned with the horns of the cuckold are placed on opposing ends of the rustic table, and we see a distraught Sieglinde chained to the ash tree, making Sieglinde’s plight abundantly clear.

The sexual side of the relationship between the sibling lovers Siegmund and Sieglinde, played by tenor Brandon Jovanovich and soprano Elisabet Strid, respectively, was emphasized more than I’ve seen in other productions: as Siegmund drew the sword from the ash in Hunding’s home, Sieglinde lay on her back, arms stretched out above her head, hips in the air. The first act ended with the lovers in a grassy patch, consummating their love. This was not a production with mere handholding and lovely glances.

I was also surprised to see a set change in Act I, which takes place exclusively in Hunding’s home. At the mention of “spring,” the scene behind Siegmund and Sieglinde transformed completely, as did the orchestral colors. The characters found themselves in lush green vegetation, changing the entire mood of the production. It was an effective choice that served the production well.

Act II opened with a surprise: Siegmund and Sieglinde, clearly spent after their romp in the grassy patch during the first 30 minute intermission, were still there, embracing one another. Sieglinde, suddenly overcome by embarrassment, jumps up and is covered by Siegmund. She runs off stage, with Siegmund quickly following her, thus effectively establishing the lighter, comic mood that was to dominate the opening of Act II.

A tuxedo-wearing Wotan, played by the phenomenal bass-baritone Eric Owens, descends from above as the balcony of his great fortress Valhalla falls into place. His tomboy Valkyrie daughter, Brünnhilde, played by soprano Christine Goerke, remains below, on an equal footing with the human characters of the first act. As Fricka, Wotan’s wife, played by mezzo Tanja Ariane Baumgartner, arrives in her chariot adorned with the skull of a ram, I hear the audience giggle – a reaction heard quite frequently in this first part of Act II.

Another interesting choice occurred later in Act II: when Brünnhilde arrives on her horse controlled by stagehands and speaks with Siegmund to inform him that he will perish in the duel with Hunding, played by bass Ain Anger, the two characters don’t speak face-to-face. Instead, both face the audience with Brünnhilde upstage. I was reminded of Greek mythology: there are countless tales in which gods and goddesses reveal themselves to mortals in dreams and dreamlike states as opposed to face-to-face interactions. Was it all happening inside Siegmund’s mind?

The duel between Siegmund and Hunding was beautifully staged. The opposing forces and their supporting gods and goddesses were on opposite sides of the stage. Hunding and Siegmund stood atop raised set pieces quite far from one another; there was no need to bring in a stage fighting coach for this one. Fricka, the protectress of the bonds of marriage, stood on the scaffolding behind Hunding, while Wotan, forced to accept the death of his child, Siegmund, nonetheless stood behind his son, clearly revealing his true desire – the one that his daughter, Brünnhilde, attempts to uphold.

Act III’s opening with the famous Ride of the Valkyries was visually stunning: three Valkyrie daughters weaved through the air on horses as the others attached the corpses of fallen heroes to Valhalla. One hero who hadn’t quite yet succumbed had his neck snapped ruthlessly by one of the Valkyries. There was no shortage of blood and gore.

The opera concludes beautifully with the tender embrace of Wotan and Brünnhilde, right before War-Father kisses his favorite daughter into slumber and summons Loge to surround the sleeping Brünnhilde with a ring of fire in order to protect her from unfit mortal men.

Vocal performances were top notch throughout the production. The orchestra, led by Sir Andrew Davis, who is celebrating his 30th year at Lyric, was as powerful and nuanced as ever. I delighted in the astounding array of colors and moods captured by the orchestra. There were a few entrances that could have been tighter, as well as some intonation and minor balance issues, but overall it was a superb orchestral performance.

As I think back on opening night, there are three things that really stand out in my mind: the staging, the orchestral colors, and the vocal performances. These elements contributed to an exhilarating opening that was both true to the story and accessible to 21st century audiences.

Trevor Gillis | Nov 4, 2017

Chicago Sun-Times

Breaking with conventions in Lyric’s grand, gargantuan ‘Die Walkure’

For those not yet initiated into the world of Richard Wagner’s “The Ring Cycle” — the epic four-part operatic odyssey based on Norse mythology and medieval German poetry — there is this analogy, which is not meant to trivialize Wagner’s monumental achievement in any way: Think of the Cycle as the 19th century German equivalent of “Game of Thrones,” with all its incestuous relationships, quests for power, profoundly flawed heroes, brutality, fantasy sequences and more.

Of course Wagner’s propulsive, wildly expressive score, which can sometimes feel like a cinematic soundtrack, is in a class all by itself. But the Cycle’s larger-than-life characters – a deeply flawed mix of gods and mortals – possess all the hallmarks of a grandly immersive serial. And with its uniformly spectacular production of “Die Walkure,” (“The Valkyrie”) — Lyric Opera of Chicago’s second entry into its all new edition of the Cycle being rolled out over four seasons — Wagner might just find his 21st century audience.

Although I was not fully on board with last season’s “Das Rheingold,” the initial entry in the Cycle, “Die Walkure,” once again directed by David Pountney, has made me a convert. Not only is the storytelling here on a far more human scale (even if all that surrounds it is positively gargantuan and eye-popping), but it feels as if Wagner put himself on a psychiatrist’s couch and gave voice to all that he wanted for himself, and all he sensed about human nature.

Of course the combination of remarkable singing, exceptionally vivid acting, mythic-modern design and extraordinary music-making (sublimely seamless work by conductor Sir Andrew Davis and his orchestra), is unique. And Colin Ure deserves special praise for his particularly fresh and fervent English supertitles (from the German of Wagner’s self-penned libretto).

“Die Walkure” unfolds in three massive acts. It opens as the woeful, wounded warrior Siegmund (Brandon Jovanovich) staggers into the grand country home of the evil Hunding (Ain Anger), and encounters his captive wife, the beautiful Sieglinde (Elisabet Strid), who, despite being chained, offers the stranger a place of refuge. Their connection is powerful and enigmatic, and, as it turns out, they are twins torn apart early in life who now proceed to consummate a passionate incestuous marriage. Siegmund has a hero’s independent spirit. Sieglinde is the long-suffering woman who manages to survive every trial. Their law-breaking love is seen as a rebirth, with winter shifting to spring. But a battle between Hunding and Siegmund looms.

The second act finds Siegmund’s long-lost father, Wotan (Eric Owens), king of the gods, with Brunnhilde (Christine Goerke), the favorite of his many warrior daughters known as the Valkyries — the fierce women who ride horseback, select who will live or die in battle, and who are embodied here by a stunning, clarion-voiced octet. Wotan asks Brunnhilde to protect his mortal son, Siegmund, in his battle with Hunding. But this greatly angers Wotan’s wife, Fricka (Tanja Ariane Baumgartner), goddess of marriage, who has suffered numerous betrayals by her husband and demands that he not support his incestuous son. Wotan buckles, and after opening his heart and soul to his daughter in ways he never thought possible, he commands her to allow Hunding to be victorious, threatening severe punishment should she disobey.

The final act finds the Valkyries at work in their slaughterhouse, steeped in the blood of dead warriors. Brunnhilde faces the wrath of her father, and ultimately is consumed in a great conflagration. As Wotan explains, we kill those we love most.

Goerke’s Wagnerian soprano is nothing short of a marvel, and her fearless rides atop the crane-on-wheels that serves as her powerful steed are as fearless as her emotions are deep. She is stunningly matched by Owens, the formidably imposing bass-baritone who brings a soul-bearing truth and beauty to scenes with both his daughter and wife. Jovanovich’s rich tenor, Strid’s forceful soprano, and Anger’s chilling bass create an ideal triangular battle of wills and desire. And mezzo-soprano Baumgartner leaves a vivid imprint as the powerful wife who knows the pain of a broken heart.

As designed by the late Johan Engels and realized by Robert Innes Hopkins (enhanced by Fabrice Kebour’s lighting and Marie-Jeanne Lecca costumes), the production begins in nature but then uses movable towers and bridges (plus a supremely modern palace at Valhalla) to suggest the infernal machine that is the desire for conquest and power. Wagner clearly understood that impulse, but channeled it into art.

Hedy Weiss | 11/03/2017

Financial Tines

Strong singing and evocative designs

David Pountney plays it relatively straight with his production of Wagner’s opera

We’ve seen high-tech productions of Der Ring des Nibelungen, but last season David Pountney took a contrarian approach by launching the Wagner cycle, his first, with a Das Rheingold produced as if by an old-fashioned theatre, with stage hands and primitive equipment in full view. The logic of this approach was never self-evident, and it was good to find the experienced director sidelining it, at least to a degree, for the multi-faceted family drama of Die Walküre. Still, the Valkyrie Brünnhilde informs Siegmund of his forthcoming death seated on a carousel-like horse atop a pushed-around crane.

The decor by Robert Innes Hopkins (after designs by the late Johan Engels) proves far more effective in depicting a lush forest, as love blossoms between the twins Siegmund and Sieglinde and, even better, a chic hallway in Valhalla, with display cases and a bar.

More than any other of its operas, Die Walküre discloses what the Ring is about, notably in confrontations involving the chief god Wotan. After strong resistance, he is prevailed upon, first, by his wife Fricka, who demands the death of Siegmund, his son, because of the latter’s incest and adultery; and second by his daughter Brünnhilde, who argues for mitigated punishment after siding with Siegmund. Here Pountney is at his best. It was especially poignant when Brünnhilde, after Wotan’s tender farewell, briefly dashes away, emotionally overcome after losing her father and the life she knows.

Eric Owens, in far better form than last year, contributes an authoritative, resonantly sung Wotan that lays bare the god’s deepest thoughts. Christine Goerke’s agreeably impulsive Brünnhilde balances quietly absorbing singing against passages unfurled with her renowned vocal might. Elisabet Strid is a marvellous Sieglinde, radiant in the upper register, telling lower down and emotionally searing. Brandon Jovanovich’s Siegmund is temperamentally cooler yet dramatically potent and sung with firm, bright tone. Tanja Ariane Baumgartner sings Fricka with a well-modulated mezzo-soprano, and Ain Anger is a barbaric Hunding.

Andrew Davis’s conducting is technically polished but insufficiently nuanced. He presses on at ecstatic moments, such as Sieglinde’s rapturous “O hehrstes Wunder!”, instead of stretching them out to make their full effect.

George Loomis | November 2, 2017



Uno de los buques insignia de la Lyric Opera of Chicago es su nuevo ciclo del Anillo wagneriano, que están presentando a razón de una ópera por año para en 2020 programar la tetralogía completa. Cuentan como indudable reclamo con el excelente nivel de su orquesta, dirigida por Sir Andrew Davis, quien este mes cumple 30 años desde su debut con la Lyric, de la que es director musical desde el año 2000. La dirección escénica se ha confiado al británico David Pountney y es coproducción con el Teatro Real, con lo que dentro de un par de años se podrá ver en Madrid.

Después del Oro del Rin de la temporada pasada, llegamos a la primera jornada, La valquiria. En la interpretación de Pountney, el mundo ha progresado de su primitivo estado en el Rheingold y se asienta ya en la modernidad. Los dioses parecen miembros de una familia imperial, con gran poder pero a la vez sujetos a las convenciones sociales. Quizás la mayor seña de indentidad de esta producción es su interés por devolver continuamente el escenario a lo que el regista llama su «condición pristina y virginal». Esto es, con frecuencia se eliminará casi toda la escenografía para recordarnos que La valquiria, a pesar de enmarcarse en una épica saga, se basa en el fondo en una serie de íntimas escenas entre dos personajes. Todos los cambios de escena se harán a la vista, de manera bastante ágil y efectiva. Destaca en este sentido el inicio de la obra, cuando en medio de la famosa tormenta aparece, sobre un escenario vacío, un Wotan ataviado con una capa bordada por las Nornas con el diseño del Fresno del mundo. A continuación, como invocados por el dios, empezarán a aparecer lentamente los elementos que componen la cabaña de Hunding, entre los que destaca un enorme árbol inclinado que atraviesa todo el escenario.

El resultado es efectivo y lo volverá a ser cuando, en el acto segundo, el Valhalla (la fachada de un palacio, rodeada por un balcón) descienda hasta estabilizarse a varios metros de altura. Cuando Wotan dé ordenes a Brünnhilde o a las demás valquirias, lo hará desde esa posición de superioridad, pero descenderá a la tierra en sus crucial escena final con su hija predilecta. En otros momentos (como en la huida de los welsungos por el bosque), grandes torres de madera cruzarán el escenario y cercarán a los protagonistas. En general, la escenografía y dirección escénica están al servicio de la música y respetan el espíritu de la obra. Pero solo en general: varios problemas irán apareciendo durante el desarrollo que, en el tercer acto, casi logran hacer descarrilar la función.

Podemos resumir estos fallos en un exceso de literalidad que generará hasta momentos inadecuadamente cómicos, en contra de una experiencia teatral en la que todos podemos usar nuestra imaginación. El primer aviso llega en el primer acto, en el que Sieglinde está literalmente encadenada al árbol. El segundo acto parece evitar estos problemas y funciona bien en su conjunto, coronado con una impactante aparición de la lanza de Wotan. Pero en el tercer acto llegan los problemas. Mientras suena la famosa «Cabalgata de las valquirias» se nos muestra una escena repleta de cadáveres ensangrentados, esparcidos por los suelos y colgando de puentes y cuerdas. Las valquirias, con un alarmante atuendo y maquillaje rojos, los recolectan alegremente, ayudadas por una tropa de siniestras enfermeras con mandiles bañados de sangre. Se puede entender una buena intención detrás de esta propuesta (mostrar la fría e inhumana naturaleza de las valquirias, para dar mayor dramatismo a la rebelión y compasión de Brünnhilde), pero el resultado es de lo más desafortunado. En la confusión reinante resulta difícil saber quién canta y Ortlinde habla de separar los corceles para que los héroes enemigos no se peleen cuando lo que cuelga de los caballos son dos sacos transparentes aparentemente llenos exclusivamente de sangre. Todo ello no resulta chocante ni una denuncia de los horrores de la guerra, sino simplemente chusco y desvirtúa totalmente el momento. Otro traspiés llegará más adelante: antes de que Wotan rodee a Brünnhilde de un fuego mágico, veremos a una docena de figurantes en gabardinas acercarse a la valquiria, con obvias intenciones. Afortundamente, desaparecerán de nuestra vista para la emotiva escena final (y hemos de decir que la aparición de Loge y de su barrera ígnea es bastante vistosa). En definitiva, una producción con buenas ideas pero también bastantes excesos.

Afortunadamente, el apartado musical funcionó a nivel notable. Brandon Jovanovich resulta un Siegmund convincente. Heroico y vigoroso, con buenos acentos, resulta impactante en sus gritos de «Wälse, Wälse!», pero carece de los matices y de la variedad en el fraseo que uno desearía en pasajes más reposados. Su momento menos convincente es probablemente la escena del «Todesverkündigung», quizás acusando cierto cansancio por su entrega en el primer acto. Elisabet Strid, en su debut en la Lyric, tiene buena química con Jovanovich y un sonido potente y claro, aunque carece de la garra y presencia escénica para completar una caracterización verdaderamente memorable. El estonio Ain Anger, también novedad en Chicago, crea un Hunding amenazante, brutal, con gran efecto dramático. Tiene una voz de bajo resonante e imponente, pero ciertos déficits técnicos que en ocasiones resultan en un sonido demasiado tosco.

El segundo acto se abre con la, a priori, mayor incógnita de la función: el Wotan de Eric Owens. El bajo norteamericano atravesó un mal momento vocal la temporada pasada, con bastantes problemas sobre todo en la Rusalka del Met. A esto unimos que el papel le viene grande (la suya es una voz más adaptada a un Alberich). Sin embargo, en el Oro del Rin que ofreció la NY Philharmonic el pasado junio parecía haberse recuperado. Me complace comprobar que este buen momento de forma continúa. Sin duda, Owens no puede satisfacer completamente todos los requirimientos del papel: tiene carencias en el registro agudo, quizás cierta falta de autoridad y técnicamene muestra una emisión algo retrasada. Pero pronto se reveló como un Wotan lleno de nobleza, que canta con seguridad e intención. Esto se certificó en su larga narración de la historia del anillo, un pasaje que a menudo puede resultar aburrido pero que Owens abordó con gran intensidad. Asimismo, transmitió gran sentimiento en sus escenas con Brünnhilde. A falta de una verdadera voz de Wotan, compensa con una gran recreación del personaje. Tanja Ariane Baumgartner le da réplica como una Fricka intensa, autoritaria. Responde con gran fiereza y convicción a todas las objeciones de su marido y causa impresión en escena con un rico registro agudo (más floja por debajo, en ocasiones ahogada por la orquesta).

Llegamos a la principal protagonista de este Anillo: la soprano estadounidense Christine Goerke, quien últimamente está copando los repartos wagnerianos en Norteamérica. Esta cantante ha conseguido una gran progresión en los últimos años. A una gran voz ha unido una mejor técnica y, sobre todo, una gran personalidad escénica. Genera un sonido siempre penetrante, poderoso cuando la partitura lo requiere y a la vez capaz de recogerse hasta un susurro. Pero su principal fuerte es la caracterización: es totalmente convincente en su paso de una adolescente impulsiva y deseosa de complacer a su padre al de una mujer compasiva y fuerte. Bien metida en el papel, tanto en sus primeras escenas con Wotan, como cuando aparece imponente montada en un caballo alado para anunciar a Siegmund que debe morir. Goerke es ahora mismo un claro reclamo para cualquier función wagneriana.

Completan el reparto las ocho valquirias, algo desiguales. Como he comentado, sus intervenciones se ven lastradas por los más desafortunados momentos de la dirección escénica, con lo que deben lidiar no solo con sus papeles sino también con la confusión reinante. Algunas adolecen de voces demasiado pequeñas, incapaces de hacerse oír en la enorme Civic Opera House. Destacó entre ellas Alexandra LoBianco como Helmwige.

Excelente prestación de la orquesta de la Lyric y de un Andrew Davis siempre atento a mostrarnos los matices de la partitura wagneriana. Podrían achacársele en algún momento puntual unos tempos algo inconsistentes, pero en general se mantuvo un gran pulso dramático. La interpretación, siempre detalladísima, tuvo su mejor momento en el gran final de la obra. En esta despedida entre Wotan y Brünnhilde todos (Davis, orquesta, Owens y Goerke) estuvieron brillantes y nos brindaron un broche de oro a una función musicalmente notable.

David Yllanes Mosquera | Chicago. 5-XI-2017

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A production by David Pountney (premiere)