Die Walküre

Philippe Jordan
New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
25 March 2019
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegmundStuart Skelton
HundingGünther Groissböck
WotanGreer Grimsley
SieglindeEva-Maria Westbroek
BrünnhildeChristine Goerke
FrickaJamie Barton
HelmwigeJessica Faselt
GerhildeKelly Cae Hogan
OrtlindeWendy Bryn-Harmer
WaltrauteRenée Tatum
SiegruneEve Gigliotti
GrimgerdeMaya Lahyani
SchwertleiteDaryl Freedman
RoßweißeMary Phillips
New York Times

The Met’s ‘Walküre’ Has a Cast Worth Bragging About

A listener sitting through the whole of the “Ring” — Wagner’s four-opera epos about the birth and destruction of a civilization — has to wait two and a half hours for the first relatable human interaction.

That’s the running time of “Das Rheingold,” the prelude peopled with gods, dwarves and giants fighting over the gold that will cast its curse over the story. Then, at the beginning of “Die Walküre,” which returned to the Metropolitan Opera on Monday night and will be screened in cinemas worldwide on Saturday, we see a gesture that feels personal and true.

A stranger seeking refuge asks the lady of the house for a drink of water. As she gives it to him, their hands touch. He drinks, and the music surges: Something other than thirst needs quenching.

They are twins — Sieglinde, bittersweetly sung by the soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek, and Siegmund, the leonine tenor Stuart Skelton — separated in childhood. It is their combustible, transgressive love, sparked over that first sip of water, that plants the seeds for the end of a world built on rules, power and greed. Mr. Skelton and Ms. Westbroek were bright stars in a cast led by the blazing soprano Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde. The conductor Philippe Jordan presided over the orchestra, where he whipped up voluptuously sulfurous playing from the Met players.

Casting the “Ring” is a task almost as herculean as singing it, and the Met can feel smug about much of the talent it has assembled for this revival. In Ms. Goerke, the house has found a Brünnhilde who marries vocal vitality and emotional presence in each radiant note. She takes on the physically grueling task with ninja-like focus and suppleness.

But “Die Walküre” demands a production that magnifies the work’s psychological nuances and eminently human conflicts.

This isn’t it.

Robert Lepage’s high-tech staging tickles the palate of the Instagram age with an expensive gadget made out of rotating planks that configure themselves into sculptural backdrops and surfaces for video wizardry. As a set, this behemoth is stiff, clunky and dangerous. Whenever singers are made to scramble atop its wobbly planks — mindful, perhaps, of the stumble Deborah Voigt took as Brünnhilde in 2011 — their movements are stiff, clunky and self-conscious.

And when singers don’t arrive with a fully formed idea of their characters, or the vocal resources to fill them, the machine’s smooth planes coldly project their hesitancy into the auditorium. That happened on Monday in Greer Grimsley’s Wotan, who came across as detached and bitter.

For much of the opera, the god Wotan stews in a marinade of anger, shame and impotence, torn between the implacable laws that shore up his rule and his yearning for an act of free will — like the shocking sibling love of Siegmund and Sieglinde — that could tear down his own power construct. In a long monologue, he sings of his conflicting desires and of the gnawing curse placed on the ring. The orchestra acts like a CT scan of his brain: Reflecting his subconscious thoughts with telltale leitmotifs, the musical tags denoting emotions, events and people.

But at the most chilling moment, the music shuts off completely, leaving the singer to stare into a gaping black silence. That abyss is framed by Wotan twice crying “Das Ende!” (“The end!”), once with desperate power, the second time quietly. Mr. Grimsley’s outcry lacked nihilistic conviction, and his unsteady echoing answer felt neither cleansed nor changed.

By contrast, Ms. Goerke’s Brünnhilde, who has observed her father’s despair, responded with singing of fingertip delicacy, a precise and private sound that clearly marked the awakening of compassion as her character’s destiny. But Ms. Goerke was also capable of zinging fortes in her “Hojotoho!” war cries that Wagner sets to something like a proto-ambulance siren.

Jamie Barton’s portrayal of Fricka, Wotan’s wife, was also brilliantly purposeful and vocally commanding. Her flamboyant mezzo-soprano, with its inky depths and flickering hues, rendered the character as guardian of legal integrity. But, in the surprisingly tender tone in which she passes the responsibility on to Brünnhilde, she hinted at a deeper sense of not only the futility, but also the undesirability of being proved right.

Personifying that undesirability is Hunding, Sieglinde’s cuckold husband, who has every right to demand revenge no matter how unsympathetic he may be. The bass Günther Groissböck sang the role with crisp intention and lethal bite. He was a fine foil for the pair of incestuous lovers whose passion simmers and flickers even in his stern presence.

Ms. Westbroek’s singing mirrored the gradual abandonment of domestic and moral constraints, chiseled and dark-limned at first while still under her husband’s roof, then more florid, voluble and bright as Sieglinde gives in to passion. Mr. Skelton’s Siegmund was heedless from the start — perhaps too much so, as he pushed his beefy tenor to supernatural extremes in the shouts of “Wälse! Wälse!” with which he invokes ancestral protection.

His tenor sometimes sounded frayed in subsequent phrases. But it was the sort of come-hell-or-high-water commitment that Wagner’s brilliant and megalomaniacal creation demands.

Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim | March 26, 2019


Two Sopranos Take the Spotlight in Wagner’s Epic ‘Die Walküre’ at the Met

The second installment of Wagner’s Ring cycle, Die Walküre, is unusual among the operatic repertoire not only for its great length and mythic content, but also because it boasts two starring roles for dramatic soprano: Brünnhilde, the eponymous Valkyrie, and her mortal half-sister, Sieglinde.

At last night’s season premiere of the massive work (over five hours!), the casting seemed downright paradoxical. Although both divas were in only mediocre form vocally, one of them astonished while the other fizzled.

To begin with the more successful performance: Eva-Maria Westbroek (Sieglinde) was in as rough voice as she was in the fall in La Fanciulla del West, wobbling and falling below pitch on anything even moderately high.

And yet she was transfixing: her face, her stance, even the line of her body as her character lay unconscious—all echoing the noble desperation of her vocal cries. This was the stuff of high tragedy.

Beside her, the Brünnhilde of Christine Goerke felt unformed, even trivial. She was not so much feral as petulant; even after the character’s life-changing second act epiphany, she seemed merely sorry for herself.

Not only does she share Westbroek’s pitch problems, she exacerbates this issue with choppy, note-by-note singing. Low phrases sounded massive and organ-like, but as the voice ascended, she seemed to have a different placement for every note of the scale.

She was frankly a letdown in what was otherwise a superb cast: Stuart Skelton (Siegmund) and Günther Groissböck (Hunding) lavished on their warrior roles legato and sheer beauty of tone suitable for the most voluptuous bel canto confections, while pointing their words with chilling intensity.

As Fricka, goddess of marriage, mezzo Jamie Barton not only looked regally chic in a flowing gown of peacock chiffon, she laid out her case in such delicious honeyed tones that monogamy sounded downright sexy.

Yet even she took a back seat to Greer Grimsley’s Wotan. The veteran artist may have a trace of gravel here and there in his big, dark bass-baritone, but every phrase and every dramatic gesture proceeds organically from his vast experience in this role.

More to the point, he knows and feels both the character and the dramatic situation so well that he held the audience spellbound during Wotan’s long second act narrative—despite the distraction of video “flashbacks” projected into what looked like the Eye of Sauron in Robert Lepage’s dumbed-down production.

Yes, the notorious “machine” seems to have been tamed, emitting only token clanks and groans this time around. Without that distraction you can more clearly hear the lithe, almost breathless conducting of Philippe Jordan.

And once Brünnhilde’s sisters make their entrance—Lepage has them cascading down a sort of giant teeter-totter—what a big-voiced and well-tuned group they are, particularly Wendy Bryn Harmer as a clarion (and perfectly pitched) Ortlinde.

James Jorden | 03/26/19


Goerke brings vocal power, dramatic impact to Met’s “Walküre”

Say what you like about the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Wagner’s Die Walküre by Robert Lepage, with its Valkyries riding oversize Popsicle sticks, it is now well-equipped in the vocal and conducting departments. Soprano Christine Goerke’s long-anticipated debut as Brünnhilde Monday night proved worth waiting for, the rest of the cast gave uniformly high-quality performances, and conductor Philippe Jordan kept it moving, in both senses of the word.

Goerke’s performance was notable more for powerful, expressive singing and character development than for vocal gymnastics, but then Brünnhilde’s war whoops occupy just a few seconds of Wagner’s score, followed by hours of interacting with the other characters in the opera.

Her voice has a fine, gleaming timbre with plenty of depth, although her youthful character didn’t often evoke the darker colors Goerke is known for in other roles. For sustaining a vocal line and a dramatic moment, this singer has few peers.

Physically, a mere suggestion of flouncy teenage mannerisms was enough to establish Brünnhilde’s headstrong youth; Goerke did not need the Mary Pickford curls the wig department fitted her with. Apparently someone thought the natural, windblown Brünnhilde of Met posters and the program cover looked too mature. It would have been better to leave that up to Goerke’s considerable acting skills.

In contrast, Greer Grimsley’s loose-limbed Wotan was, physically at least, a little too much suburban dad and not enough god. In unguarded moments, he could be seen slumping a little and flicking his spear around casually. And someone might have suggested he stand still while pronouncing his fateful sentence on Brünnhilde in Act III, instead of pacing around and waving his arms as if telling her she was grounded for a week. But one senses in this production an urge to make these mythical characters “relatable,” so maybe that was part of it.

Vocally, however, Grimsley’s steely bass-baritone rang with authority and purposeful diction, and bore up well through a punishingly long series of expository monologues. (You wouldn’t think a god would have to explain himself so much.) Yet he still had the strength to be tender in his parting with Brünnhilde at opera’s end.

The opera was fast out of the gate vocally as well, with the three principals in Act I all giving strong performances. Stuart Skelton brought a bold, full tenor to Siegmund, giving a powerful account of his own violent and tragic backstory (redundantly and distractingly re-enacted by a shadow pantomime as he told it), and wordlessly falling in love with the hospitable Sieglinde.

In the latter role, soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek had to contend at first with her character’s downtrodden state (and drab attire and makeup to match), but blazingly discovered passion with Siegmund by the act’s curtain, and gave anguish full voice during the tragic action that followed. And her triumphant high A’s in Act III, delivered face front, downstage, were the very definition of “Wagnerian.”

Bass Günther Groissböck’s hard, penetrating bass made for a menacing Hunding indeed, but the singer also conveyed the deep hurt that drove his lust for revenge.

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton as Wotan’s wife Fricka bent the ambivalent god to her will, and did it all with sheer strength of voice and personality. Her static blocking, almost motionless on a high point of the set, was apparently meant to symbolize her character’s uncompromising moral attitude, but it was also a welcome relief from the pointless crisscrossing that the performers were directed to do elsewhere.

Goerke’s Brünnhilde was hailed, debated, and protected by a big-voiced, well-matched gaggle of Valkyrie sisters, sung by Kelly Cae Hogan, Jessica Faselt, Renée Tatum, Wendy Bryn Harmer, Eve Gigliotti, Maya Lahyani, Mary Phillips, and Daryl Freedman.

Conducting from memory, Jordan appeared deeply engaged in every moment of Wagner’s score, drawing committed playing in the tender passages, the talky ones, and the flashes of sudden drama. The occasional cracked horn entrance was more than made up for by superb solos and small ensembles: cellos as Siegmund and Sieglinde fall in love, and (hours later) oboe and bassoon for a father-daughter farewell.

David Wright | Mar 26, 2019


Philippe Jordan Leads A Luxurious Cast In Exquisite Performance Of Wagner Masterpiece

Wagner’s “Die Walküre” took center-stage at the Metropolitan Opera on Monday, March 25, 2019 to what is likely to have been the most enthusiastic audience of the season.

After every act, the artists were showered with tremendous ovations, each more effusive than the last. It was emblematic of an evening that just seemed to grow in stature as the night wore on.

You could argue that almost everything about this evening went as well as it could. Even the “Machine (which we recently learned was even given a name by the cast members) behaved in a manner that was dignified of an opera company of the Met’s stature. That is to say that it didn’t make any noise, no Valkyrie or lead singer fell off the planks, and there was no reboot or Windows XP logo flashing inadvertently.

A Directorial Mess
So before we dish out fervent praise on those that made the night compelling, a few comments on the production itself, which remains an awkward contraption. Act one tends to look overly bare as the planks elevate themselves to become the roof of Hunding’s hut. They project some visuals as Siegmund narrates his story to his hosts and then open up further as Winterstürme commences. It’s simply, a bit overbearing for the singers, but you could argue that it kind of works. In Act two we get a big rock followed by some trees to portray Wotan’s hideout and the forest where Siegmund is to die. Act three gets a bit more creative with the Ride of the Valkyries giving each one her own plank/horse before transforming into Brünnhilde’s horse as she enters the fray. Eventually, it becomes a mountain looming over Wotan and Brünnhilde’s final encounter and then also transforms into the opera’s final image.

All of it “works” in terms of presenting the story’s setting, but with minimal props and some uninspired costumes, it create tremendous cognitive dissonance. As I stated with my “Rheingold” review, it’s style over substance, akin to a Hollywood film spending tens of millions on special effects to cover for a bad script and direction. In this case, you have one of the greatest librettos in history, but the direction is clearly more invested in playing with toys than interacting with people. To that end, the costuming for the Valkyries would have been an opportunity to give them each individual personalities, despite some common visual look that unites them. Instead, they all virtually look the same; even Brünnhilde, the heroine of the opera and entire saga, is relegated to the same uniform as her sisters. They’ve been to war together; each one has to have her own identifiable trait. These details just add to the level of immersion of the viewer. Ditto for Siegmund’s outfit, which looks so similar to Alberich from afar that you could confuse the two if you were experiencing these operas on back-to-back nights without much knowledge about their stories. Fricka’s throne-chariot is somehow more elaborate than anything else on the set, and because of that, it sticks out in the wrong manner simply because it doesn’t feel like it’s part of the style of anything else on stage.

We could also talk about the poor staging (or lack thereof), especially in the first Act. When Siegmund finds the sword and utters “Was gleisst dor Hell im Glimmerschein,” tenor Stuart Skelton turned to the audience, then swiveled his head back to the sword rapidly before uttering his ensuing line. While understandable given the singer’s need to sing to the audience, the movement looked clumsy and cartoonish, eliciting some laughs from audience members. That he repeated the gesture again, only added to the awkwardness of Siegmund’s big moment.

Other decisions, such as the delayed hug between Brünnhilde and Wotan at the opera’s emotional climax, also seemed a bit forced. As staged, Brünnhilde leaps into Wotan’s arms on the B major chord at the climax of the passage, but the entire build doesn’t showcase either character really making any attempt to comfort the other. There’s an attempt to build tension, but the character-building blocks toward that catharsis are misaligned. Brünnhilde shows off some angst, but it feels misplaced in the moment, especially given that she is the one who desperately wants to hug her father but seems to be the one rejecting him. Wotan doesn’t really do much in these moments except turn around, but his inaction doesn’t add to the tension of the scene either. Ditto for the decision to have Brünnhilde and Wotan pick up their respective spears and shield moments later so that they can walk offstage; it seems rather unnecessary and strange that in their tearful goodbye, these characters would think it crucial to pick up spears and shields that will now be useless (especially for Brünnhilde). The importance of this blocking choice is again, in the interest of the machine, but hinders the emotional connection of father and daughter saying goodbye.

Then there’s the monologue in Act two, which New York Times critic Anthony Tomassini did a solid job of relating. We could go on (something was very off about the timing of Hunding and Siegmund’s respective deaths compared to previous iterations of this version), but in sum, this production is what you would call a mess from a conceptual and aesthetic perspective.

The Heart of the Story
Believe it or not, there were some dramatic moments that really worked and it really came down to the conviction with which they were expressed by the performers.

While the title of the opera would suggest that the second installment in the tetralogy belongs to Brünnhilde, it is undeniably Wotan’s opera. This is the one where he makes a gamble and it blows up in his face in a number of ways. This is the opera where he is torn apart and ultimately left with little hope of a future (the next time we see him, he is but a wanderer). It’s the one where he gets one of the best opera “arias” of all time.

Greer Grimsley was tasked with interpreting the role on Monday, and despite some issues that I personally have with his voice, he embodied the tragic figure quite potently. So let’s get the vocal questions out of the way first. Given the more extended passages in this opera, many of the things noted in the “Das Rheingold” review were only amplified here. His highs tend to sound pushed all the way through, with the vibrato sounding worn and the resulting pitch unstable. It happens all the time, with notable examples including the high E and D’s on “Leb wohl, du kühnes” and ensuing high E on “Du meines Herzens;” other such instances include the high tessitura of Wotan’s very first entrance in “Act two, “Nun zäumedein Ross” with a high F and the end of the Act two monologue, “In meinem Busenberg.” Alternatively, Grimsley’s lows sound like growls with minimal resonance in passages with heavier orchestration; his mixing of registers in certain phrases was also a bit muddled and crude in many instances.

But there is no denying that he imbued Wotan with complexity throughout. His Act two monologue was sung softly throughout, bitterness growing and growing throughout until he exploded with nervous energy in the aforementioned passage. That passage builds over 20 minutes but given the fact that it is pure exposition, it can feel eternal if the Wotan interpreter doesn’t allow the audience to get a sense of how this narrative affects the character. We need to hear the story and feel it’s impact and reaction to it all at once. What made Grimsley’s interpretation compelling was that you felt the emotional build throughout, emphasizing the brilliance of Wagner’s dramatic and musical architecture.

“Leb wohl” was intense, with Grimsley throwing all of his vocal resources into the opening stanzas; there was pain in every note, and slowly but surely his sounded trailed off as he put Brünnhilde to sleep in such phrases as “Denn so kehrt der Gott sich dir, ab…”

Then there was the scene with Fricka, where together with Jamie Barton, Grimsley delivered one of the tensest scenes witnessed at the Met Opera all season.

Barton displayed elegant legato throughout; her lush vocal resources contrasted with Grimsley’s gruffer sound, adding to the tension in the scene. But hers was not a needy wife, but a demanding one. She was there to put him in his place, not beg him for mercy. Right from the off, Barton’s phrasing was articulate and precise, the consonants particularly pronounced, giving an air of aggression to her singing. Even when Grimsley tried to evade her with his own smoother vocalization, she rebuffed him, glaring at him incessantly throughout the exchange. You could sense that this was going nowhere for some time, the two seemingly equals in an extended conflict.

But then came the big turn and you could feel it quite potently as Barton’s Fricka demanded “Lass von dem Wälsung.” With his back turned to his wife and seemingly on his way off the stage, Grimsley’s Wotan stopped in his midst. He immediately fired back his “Er gehseines Weg.” Her ensuing retorts, equally resonant, that his looks at her, were met with an aggressive walk toward her for his ensuing “Ich schüt ze ihn nicht.” When she leveled the ensuing desire that he leave Brünnhilde out of it also, Grimsley was at his wits end and barked out “Die Walküre walte frei” and looked to storm off. Despite his aggressive response, you could feel Wotan imploding and the power shifted forever to Fricka. As she saw her husband come undone, Barton’s Fricka looked more and more poised on her throne.

As the scene drew to a close, she pulled out her final trump card with melting legato on “Deiner ew’gen Gattin heilige” in what became a mournful plea to save the Gods. And when it was all said and done, she got one final knockout blow with an imposing “Empfah’ich von Wotan den Eid.” At this point, Grimsley walked toward her, bent over and angrily uttered “Nimm den Eid.” He then fell to his knees, broken and defeated. Barton’s Fricka, instead of smiling or enjoying her victory, looked toward her pained husband and reached over to touch him. Despite the lengthy outpouring of resentment for his infidelities, she loved him and it also hurt her to see her husband in pain. And as she went to touch him, he pushed his entire body away from her in a quick thrust that hurt all the more, adding to the insult.

As her throne pulled away, Barton’s Fricka won her battle, but continued to lose the war of her marriage. Grimsley’s Wotan, meanwhile, would grow weaker as the opera progressed. It was the most gripping and immersive moment of the night.

Heroes All Over
As she arrived onstage to begin Act two, soprano Christine Goerke was showered with applause. She’s had major success in this role around the U.S. and this Met homecoming was years in the making. And despite not necessarily, dominating the evening, she put on a strong performance overall. Her middle voice is where her singing really shines, with the high notes losing brightness and sounding somewhat softer and more limited; this was present in her opening “Hojotoho” proclamations. She glided rather well into the first eighth-note High B’s and C’s, punctuated by a solid sustained high B. But the repeat a few measures later came off a bit more unsteadily, the clarity of the initial phrasing a bit muddier this time around.

But afterward, she was solid throughout, particularly in the confrontation with Siegmund at the close of Act two. Standing poised throughout, there was a coolness to Goerke’s singing as she looked away from Siegmund. And while she claims that she can’t look at him lest she condemn him to death, there was a sense in her increasingly gentle singing that she was conflicted over this behavior. This allowed her eventual decision to save him all the more credible emotionally. After singing at a tamer volume, her “Halt ein Wälsung” was delivered with resounding dynamics that added to the energy of the moment.

We saw a similar emotional build throughout the final scene with Wotan, Goerke luxuriating in her legato line throughout, but with accented euphoria in her final phrases; the final high A on “dem freislichen Felsen zu nahn” a perfect way to cap a solid performance. It should be interesting to see how Goerke’s performance develops with the upcoming “Siegfried” and especially with “Götterdämmerung” which is undeniably Brünnhilde’s opera.

As the twins Siegmund and Sieglinde were the impeccable Stuart Skelton and Eva-Maria Westbroek. Skelton sang with polish and finesse throughout the night. In fact, throughout Act one, it almost sounded like he was incapable of singing a harsh phrase or note. Everything soared with warmth and delicacy. Even the famed, fortissimo, fermata cries of “Wälse” a high G flat and high G, respectively, drew no attack on the onset; they just flowed out of his mouth. The latter high G was sustained for quite some time, the tenor’s risky choice seemingly creating some distortion on the latter end of the sustain, but it was thrilling and glorious to behold. He churned out phrase after phrase with bright, glowing legato, best exemplified in “Winterstürme” and the final coda “Siegmund, heiss ich.”

Earlier this year, I witnessed a sick Skelton struggle with his high notes in “Otello,” but on this night they were on point every single time; the high A on “Wälsungen Blut!” was one such perfect demonstration of this.

But aggression did materialize in Skelton’s voice in the showdown with Brünnhilde in a vocal masterclass of emotional development. The honeyed singing permeated the opening phrases of that dialogue before slowly growing darker and more accented. As he denied Brünnhilde repeatedly, looking angrily at the sleeping body of Sieglinde, you could feel the anger building. At one point, he threw aside Brünnhilde’s spear and declaimed his intent to murder Sieglinde and his child. His voice had a coarse, piercing quality that emphasized the frustrated nature of the character.

Westbroek also exposed her vocal qualities slowly over the evening, also giving Sieglinde an emotional arc from a vocal perspective. Submissive and gentle in the opening moments, her singing was equally subdued and quiet. If you hadn’t heard the soprano in “La Fanciulla del West” earlier this season, you wouldn’t know how massive her instrument could be. This approach, however, emphasized her perceived weakness and fear, and also made the perfect foil for Gঢ়nther Groissbock’s vicious and loud interpretation as Hunding (his repetitions of “Wölfing” were deliciously condescending). While the German bass-baritone perfectly embraced the monstrous macho nature of his character with tremendous arrogance and ego (he grabbed Sieglinde and kissed her against her will and pushed her aside to serve him his meal, his singing aggressive and accented throughout), she was withdrawn and even hunched over in her gait.

But her scene with Siegmund “freed” her vocally and her sound blossomed as the interaction developed. Her eruptions into high notes unleashed the full power of her sound, which despite some inconsistent pitch, was cathartic each time. Her multiple cries of “Siegmund” at the close of Act one and in the late stages of Act two were all delivered with similar frenzied energy that made them recall one another. But of course her big moment comes at “Oh herstes Wunder” and Westbroek delivered. Despite rushing ahead of the orchestra a bit and her high A’s sounding a bit pitchy, the soprano’s ample resonance made the moment shine as it should.

The ensemble of Valkyries, which included Kelly Cae Hogan, Jessica Faselt, Renée Tatum, Darily Freedman (in her Met debut), Wendy Bryn Harmer, Eve Gigliotti, Maya Lahyano, and Mary Phillips, were all fun and enjoyable to watch in their opening number of Act three.

Master to the Pit
I was rather critical of maestro Philippe Jordan in my review of “Das Rheingold” and a subsequent viewing of that same opera did little to calm my previous qualms with his musical direction for that opera. But this was another story altogether.

It’s been rare to see such exquisite conducting at the Met as that exhibited in “Die Walküre.” There was polish and sheen the entire evening with the rich orchestral colors all coming through quite beautifully. The triplet and sextuplet figures in the violin section that launch “Leb wohl” have never sounded clearer, the resulting effect adding urgency to the passage. The same can be said to the magic fire sequence, particularly with the busy string passages.

The brass had an incredible night, integrated wonderfully into passages that included massive ensemble work, but also poised and vibrant in their own solo moments. The quarter notes a measure before Fricka’s “Empfah’ich von Wotan den Eid” were milked for all they were worth, adding tremendous tension to the moment and ensuing declamation from Barton.

Jordan displayed incredible elasticity with the Met Orchestra and the singers throughout the evening, moving from propulsive tempi (“Siegmund heiss ich”) to being as flexible as needed; the success of Grimsley’s emotional build in the Act two monologue is undeniably the result of Jordan’s allowing the singer to lead the way. The same goes for Skelton’s proclamations of “Wälse;” you almost sensed like Jordan was cheering him on to hold the notes as long as he wished.

Jordan’s leadership was but one factor for this incredible performance of “Die Walküre.” Here’s hoping that “Siegfried” and “Götterdämmerung” match and better this level of immersive music-making.

David Salazar | March 2019


Robert Lepage’s multidisciplinary production company, Ex Machina, is as much associated with their work for Cirque du Soleil as for this Ring cycle he created for the Met from 2010 to 2012. As part of its current revival Die Walküre was broadcast Live in HD to cinemas across the globe.

Die Walküre is more of an intimate kitchen-sink drama in comparison to the preceding Das Rheingold (that I saw transmitted in 2010). Then the story involves water nymphs, dwarves, giants, gods and a rainbow bridge and saw Lepage’s Cirque du Soleil-inspired approach at its best. All we have to concentrate on in this opera is the reuniting of long-lost twins Sieglinde and Siegmund and their falling into incestuous love; the marriage difficulties of the gods Wotan and Fricka; as well as, a father (Wotan) punishing his young errant daughter, Brünnhilde. Yes, all human life is here just like any soap opera.

With his considerable theatrical gifts – as well as some solid singing and good acting from his performers – Ringmaster Lepage delivers an engrossing ‘show’. Seeing this Die Walküre again I standby my earlier opinion that it succeeds possibly because it is concept-free and appeals to the little boy in me that wants to see the fairy-tale aspect of the Ring given its due from time to time. Our current world is dark and cynical enough already and perhaps we do not need to be reminded of this every time we sit down in the opera house. (Though I accept a generational reinvention is precisely what Wagner wanted when he said ‘Kinder! macht neues!’) Truth be told if you did not know the singers and/or the production and took sepia photographs of François St-Aubin’s costumes these could have been from any Met Die Walküre during the early twentieth century: Brünnhilde retains her winged helmet, shield and spear throughout the entire evening. Carl Fillion’s basic high-tech mechanical set consists of 24 long planks that can tilt one way or the other and can be arranged to provide the stage pictures. It looks like a huge piano keyboard but is often referred to as ‘the Machine’.

The Met audience – with at least one spotted wearing a horned helmet! – applauded the set in Act III when the eight excellent Valkyries ‘rode’ up and down astride their individual planks which gave their ‘horses’ a rather phallic appearance. Indeed it is a thing of wonder how ‘the Machine’ can elsewhere turn from trees, to Hunding’s hut (with the sword as a convenient coat hook), the side of a volcano with lava flows and a mountaintop with avalanches. Boris Firquet’s video projections are an essential part of this and often during some of the expository monologues we have images and shadow play from the characters’ back stories. Only once was I disappointed by what I was seeing and that was at the very end of the opera; Brünnhilde (undoubtedly now a stuntwoman) is suspended from above surrounded by flickering, fiery projections on the moving set. I can appreciate that it is as if the audience is looking down on her, but a little smoke and some real flame would create more atmosphere.

That is most of the good – though there will be more – but what about the bad? Well I suspect however good Lepage is as a director of sets he was probably less good with people. Even when it was first put on everyone appeared as if they had been left to their own devices and in the current revival I suspect they just gave a stock performance they would routinely give anywhere. We have had much that is good, some bad – so what about the ugly? Well that is the rams’-headed contraption for the enthroned Fricka that slides forward at the start of Act II looking like a large mobility vehicle.

This is my third Die Walküre this season and each has seen Stuart Skelton as Siegmund. I must pose the question is there no one else? However, I am happy to report that – as heard through cinema loudspeakers – this was by a long way the best of these performances. Once again he did not move with ease over the set and held on to some undoubtedly thrilling top notes for a little longer than necessary. But the good news is that there was more lyricism and nuance to longer stretches of the role than I previously heard from Skelton’s burly tenor voice. Eva-Maria Westbroek was an ideal Sieglinde once again and clearly convincingly portrayed the abused victim of a loveless, enforced union to the brutish Hunding (a growling Günther Groissböck, Bayreuth’s next Wotan). Ms Westbroek was one of the sextet of vocal successes, singing with a – seemingly refreshed – radiant and impassioned sound.

Wotan in this production also looks exactly as you would expect him too: he has a patch across his left eye, as well as, a breastplate and spear. This give Wotan – as personified by Greet Grimsley – an imposing, statuesque presence. There was a hint of gravel to Grimsley’s assured voice that gave his portrayal gravitas and authority and he clearly expressed all Wotan’s turmoil whether it was regret, anger, or paternal love. His wife, Fricka, was sung by Jamie Barton and she probably had the best voice of this cast. There are a wide range of vocal colours at her disposal and her top notes sound that of a future Brünnhilde. Barton – in her brief time onstage – gave full vent to her character’s ire and made it abundantly clear who was in charge in her marriage with Wotan.

I am somewhat conflicted by Christine Goerke’s Brünnhilde. Her Twitter handle is @HeldenMommy and when giving a shout out to her daughters during a backstage interview (with former Met Brünnhilde Deborah Voigt) she engagingly hinted they should pay particular attention to Act III and ‘watch what happens when you don’t listen to your father’. Acting-wise her Valkyrie was girlish, vulnerable, sweet and prone to tears. However I missed any sense she was supposed to be a warrior maiden. It is difficult to judge a vocal performance unless it is heard live but, for me, her bright ‘Hojotohos’ sounded as if she was not there to take any risks with her voice and the role for the most part sounded as if it had more dark colours in it than even Wagner possibly intended.

Philippe Jordan has considerable Wagner pedigree and bought immense character, great sense of overall direction, and attention to detail to his Die Walküre that had all the required passion, tenderness and excitement it needed. Jordan’s brisk tempi ensured there was nothing routine about this very strong performance. The Met Orchestra sounded as if they responded well to him and were their usual accomplished musical selves.

Jim Pritchard | April 2019

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A production by Robert Lepage (2011)