Die Walküre, Wiesbaden, Germany
What a supremely beautiful opera house in Wiesbaden. It is small (probably around 1,000 seats) with a great quality of sound.
This opera is the second in the Ring Cycle, albeit was Wagner's third in order of conception. He had worked backwards from planning an opera about Siegfried's death and in doing so he needed another opera to tell of his conception.
Wagner started work on Walküre, 20 years before its premier in 1870 and in 1851 he first wrote a draft of what was to become the best known leitmotif in the entire Ring Cycle, known as the theme from the Ride of the Valkyries. Wotan is first introduced by Wagner in this opera. He describes himself as the 'least free of all men'. The unlawful seizure of the great world dominating Ring in Rheingold, the first opera in the Ring Cycle, has effectively crippled the ruler of the gods. Siegmund and Sieglinde's free sibling love eventually produces Siegfried, although their love is destroyed by Wotan's wife, Fricka. Wotan's daughter, Brunnhilde, who defies her father, is punished by being stripped of her Valkyrie status to become a mortal woman held in a magic mountain sleep by a protective ring of fire, waiting for her eventual lover, Siegfried.
The opera is directed by Uwe Eric Laufenberg in an overall reasonably interesting production. It opens with a two tier staging with Hunding's home in the lower part and Brunnhilde watching proceedings from an upper part. The second act is a tented object, which converts into a battlefield and the third act is built as a horse ring, which actually has a live horse riding around it. Unfortunately, on the first night, the horse became slightly spooked and wouldn't let its rider climb aboard and had to be led off stage. There were small bits in the production which didn't work, such as a little girl representing Sieglindes' childhood. However, the most ridiculous part was left to the end. Having praised the director for an authentic Ring of Fire on stage, a video was then introduced of world disasters catching fire, with WW2 bombers firebombing cities and pictures of New York and possibly other cities, depicting the huge waste in power resources that currently effects the world. This all didn't work and served to confuse.
The evening was blessed by wonderful music, conducting and some great singing. It was a surprise indeed to see an opera house of the stature of Wiesbaden appoint a conductor who was neither the music director nor German, but British, to lead this new Ring Cycle. What a privilege for Alexander Joel, who conducted his first Walkure here and is performing his first Ring Cycle. He has been working on this for 3 years, but however much you work on Wagner's Ring, only time and experience will mould your performance into something near perfection, which everybody seeks. Mr Joel's performance showed a tremendous rapport with his orchestra and he gave us a robust but romantic interpretation of the music, playing with great care and without labour throughout the piece. His was a precisely balanced interpretation, demanding a great deal from the Wiesbaden State Orchestra, who played outstandingly.
He was lucky in being able to work with a really good group of singers. Wiesbaden is not in the very top rank of opera houses in Germany, but has managed to put together a wonderful cast of singers, which supported 5 debuts in the main roles. The Wotan of Gerd Grochowski is a German bass baritone voice that has been heard in Wagner roles at the Met in New York as well as Bayreuth. His voice is not large and is occasionally lacking heft, but he produces a great sound and wonderful focus on the part that he portrays. His wife, Fricka, is sung by the German mezzo soprano, Margarete Joswig, who's wonderful voice has been heard on many German and European stages throughout the last 25 years. She has quite a Cruella de Vil look in her portrayal.
Wotan's daughter, Brunnhilde, is sung by the young German soprano, Sonja Gornik. She produces a warm substantial sound, but throughout the evening is made to wear not only riding breaches, but a Biggles aircraft hat, which makes her look slightly daft. She clearly enjoys herself on stage and her interaction with Wotan in the final act is very moving. Hunding is sung by the Korean bass, Young Doo Park, who became a studio member of the Cologne opera in 2010 and has a deep booming voice mixed with a rather serious expression. He will undoubtedly feel more comfortable in the role in the years ahead.
The Siegmund was sung by the American tenor, Richard Furman. This was an almost perfect debut with a more romantic tenor sound from a tall handsome prince-like figure. You could tell how good he was going to be with his Act I 'Walse Walse', which almost brought the house down. His Sieglinde was the Slovenian soprano, Sabina Cvilak, who started her career in Vienna, singing lyric roles, but has moved on to a deeper repertoire in the last few years. For another debut, her portrayal and quality of sound was tremendous and she gave us a very moving account of her role, especially in the third act when she realised she was carrying Siegmund's baby and wanted to do all she could to protect it from harm.
This was a wonderful night of opera led, as usual with Wagner, by the music.
Since this review was written came the tragic news that the Wotan, Gerd Grochowski, passed away the day after the opening night due to a heart attack. In the second act he sings "nur eines will ich noch, das ende“ (all I want to know is The End)". This is a shocking end to a great and talented artist who has enjoyed a wonderful career. RIP.
With kind regards,
15 January 2017