Round Two: Parachuting In with the Valkyries

Brunnhilde convinces Sieglinde to hide from Wotan for the sake of her child to be, while the other Valkyries look on.  Photo courtesy of Washington National Opera/ Kennedy Center.

Brunnhilde convinces Sieglinde to hide from Wotan for the sake of her child to be, while the other Valkyries look on.  Photo courtesy of Washington National Opera/ Kennedy Center.

Welcome to the The Valkyrie if you are American or Die Valkure if you are German. There is a lot going on in The ValkyrieHere is a good synopsis of the whole Ring

The Ring, as an intricate myth, requires a major suspension of disbelief.  So, why should not the Valkyries parachute in wearing WWII bombardier outfits to meet up with sister Brunnhilde who wore a Matrix style leather coat while her captive/ward, Sieglinde, wore a nice dress.  Why should Wotan’s office not be looking out at a city landscape with skyscrapers, and why should a barbecue, open flame pit not be sitting at the base of a wooden frame house belonging to Hunding, and then when the frame lifts out of sight, become the centerpiece of the room (gotta run up your insurance premium).  Why should Siegfried not plan to use a magic sword to duel Hunding when his adversary clearly has four rifles at his disposal, and finally why should a ring of fire to keep Brunnhilde safe from namby-pambies not be a rectangle of fire (bet that ran up the Kennedy Center’s premium).  Given all that, why should opera star Christine Goerke not step in at the last minute to play Brunnhilde for an injured opera star Catherine Foster.  With Wagner, just get into the fantasy and leave the driving to the director.  The truth will not appear on the surface, but it will seep into your bones and heart; you will be mystified, maybe even spell bound, but changed.

Somehow, the motives, honest ones and manipulative ones, grip us, and honorable intentions and the love so strongly felt wins our hearts and draws us in.  We ache for the long suffering Siegmund and Sieglinde, despite their love being incestuous.  We cannot like Wotan’s demanding wife Fricka, even though her position on their marriage is correct.  We both feel for Wotan’s inner turmoil in having to abandon his beloved son to death and having to exile his daughter, and feel frustrated and angry with his failings.  And mostly we feel for pure-hearted Brunnhilde, as she is torn between love and strictly honoring her father’s commands.  Fortunately, regardless of the creative choices for these performances the story goes forward unaltered. 

Plot comments aside, everybody kicked up their game for Round Two, starting with the first appearance of the twins and our young lovers to be, Siegfried, played by Christopher Ventris, and Sieglinde, played by Meagan Miller.  I thought both were excellent.  When Ventris sang his first aria, I relaxed.  At last, I was certain that I was in Wagnerian territory.  In a Post article    based on a discussion between Post critics Midgette and Kennicott, Ms. Midgette said Miller’s voice was light, though she praised her performance overall.  I may not understand exactly what light voice means; I clearly heard Miller powering over the orchestra as called for.  And the orchestra was terrific in Monday night’s performance, clearly taking its place in telling the story.

Ms. Goerke was coming off a performance two days ago in Siegfried in Houston and yet entered with energy and assurance that was impressive.  Catherine Foster, herself a highly acclaimed Wagnerian singer, will be back as Brunnhilde for Wednesday’s performance of Siegfried.  It will be fun to compare how she plays Brunnhilde with Goerke’s portrayal.

A couple of logistical comments: the Kennedy Center has gone to considerable lengths to help ticket holders navigate the terrain more easily with multiple emails giving advice and has enriched the experience for many by holding free pre-opera talks and several ticket-required workshops.  I learned a few things I didn’t know listening to the pre-opera talks, but Kip Cranna’s reviewing many of the leitmotifs helped me greatly to spot some of these in the performance; he is Dramaturg for the San Francisco Opera where this Ring premiered four years ago. The Kennedy Center is offering pre-ordered box dinners for the intermissions given the length of the operas.  On a personal note, I sat in the first tier balcony for The Rhinegold and in the second tier for The Valkyrie.  The sound in the second tier was the best I have heard at the Kennedy Center.  From there I could not see the faces that well, but I’d have no concern about buying the cheaper tickets there due to the outstanding acoustics.

Now it is time to meet Siegfried.  For me, if the Ring offers an icon for America it is Siegfried.  Siegfried is a hero, unafraid, honest, honorable, and yet assumes others are the same and is easily mislead; sort of a John Wayne type.  I greatly look forward to witnessing the DC Ring’s vision of him.