By Lynne Gray, PhD
Please note this can be seen at www.metopera.org
Viewing Note: On the Met’s home page, you now need to scroll down past the multiple ads for Pay Per View concerts and the [BUY TICKETS] boxes and go to the box that says “Nightly Opera Stream: <name of opera> and click on [WATCH NOW].
Sunday, August 2
Starring Christine Goerke, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Jamie Barton, Stuart Skelton, Greer Grimsley, and Günther Groissböck, conducted by Philippe Jordan. From March 30, 2019.
Christine Goerke is one of the most electrifying dramatic sopranos currently appearing on world opera stages. The vocal powerhouse (as I’ve said, her tag is ‘heldenmommy’) raised her artistry to the next level at the end of the 2018–19 season, taking on the impetuous warrior maiden Brünnhilde in three full cycles of Richard Wagner’s epic Ring cycle. In this Live in HD transmission of Die Walküre, the second and most popular installment in the composer’s mythical tetralogy, Goerke (we last saw her at the end of May as Turandot) is joined by bass-baritone Greer Grimsley as Brünnhilde’s father, Wotan (ruler of the Gods), and mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton (she was the witch Ježibaba the night before last!) as his unbending wife, Fricka (the Goddess of marriage and family). As the incestuous lovers Siegmund and Sieglinde, soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek and tenor Stuart Skelton—alongside bass Günther Groissböck as Sieglinde’s bloodthirsty husband, Hunding—round out the principal cast. And on the podium, Maestro Philippe Jordan conducts Robert Lepage’s controversial staging, which uses “the Machine”- a behemoth mechanical set which uses of state-of-the-art video technology to tell Wagner’s mythic tale. The score requires singers who are almost as superhuman as the characters they portray and features some of the most glorious Wagner music ever.
The New Times review of this production summed it up as follows: “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. 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.” Definitely, this is an excellent cast and if you missed Jonas Kaufmann as Siegmund the last time around, Mr. Skelton’s voice – if not his appeal – is more traditional for a Wagnerian tenor.
So, once again, ‘for the good of the order,’ I repeat my previous summary of this one so you don’t have to go searching for it.
As we have seen, this is the second installment of Wagner’s massive four-opera Ring Cycle (nearly 18 hours long!). Many years have now passed since the theft of the Rheinmaiden’s gold by Albercht, the Niebelung, and the completion of the building of the new home for the Gods in Valhalla. The Giant, Fafner now possesses the gold and the magic Tarnhelm and has transformed himself into a dragon in order to protect it from Albrecht and Wotan, among others. A restless Wotan has been wandering in the world of Humans for many years. As Gods are wont to do, he has apparently fathered many children along the way – among them, the nine Valkyries with the Earth Goddess, Erda (including Brünnhilde, Die Walküre of the title). The Valkyries are warrior maidens whose job it is to retrieve fallen heroes from the battlefield and bring them up to Valhalla. With a human mate from the Völsung clan, Wotan has also fathered twins, Siegmund and Sieglinde, who were separated from each other in early childhood by the fierce clan wars in that area.
The young Siegmund, on his own for many years, is still fleeing the Völsung’s enemies. Exhausted, unarmed and wounded, he stumbles into a large hut in the forest that is strangely built around a huge ash tree and collapses. The tree just happens to contain a sword buried to its hilt in the trunk (which, needless to say, no one has been able to remove). Coincidentally, Sieglinde, who was abducted by the rival clan and was forced into marriage, is now living in the selfsame hut and is the badly mistreated wife of the warrior Hunding. She enters to discover the wounded Siegfried on the ground, and as she tries to give him help, finds herself inexplicably drawn to the stranger. When Hunding returns, it becomes increasingly clear that he is one of Siegmund’s pursuers. However, he grants Siegmund the traditional hospitality of his dwelling for the night, but promising to fight him to the death in the morning.
In the remainder of this first act, Sieglinde gives Hunding a sleeping draught and we see and hear the glorious freeing of the magical sword from the tree “Siegmund heiss’ ich und Siegmund bin ich!” (My name is Siegmund and I am Siegmund); the twin’s undeniable and all consuming passion for one another, “Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond” (Winter storms gave way to the blissful moon) and “Du bist der Lenz, nach dem ich verlangte” (you are the life I have longed for); and their incestuous (but beautifully sung) lovemaking.
The second act begins in the realm of the Gods where Wotan has summoned his favorite daughter Brünnhilde to tell her she must protect Siegfried during his coming battle with Hunding. Fricka interrupts however, (remember she is Wotan’s wife and the Goddess of family values – I wouldn’t try to dig too deeply into this one!) furious about the twins’ coupling and demanding that Hunding’s rights as a husband be avenged. Wotan is forced to reverse his instructions to Brünnhilde and orders her to protect Hunding instead. When Brünnhilde visits earth to warn Siegmund that he is about to die and that she will take him to Valhalla, she sees the depth of his love for Sieglinde and resolves to do what she knows in her heart is her father’s real desire – protect Siegmund. When she does, however, Wotan appears and is forced to intervene and destroy Siegmund’s sword – thereby allowing Hunding to strike him down. As Siegmund falls dead, Brünnhilde immediately gathers up the sword fragments, along with the pregnant Sieglinde, and escapes with her into the woods. The grieving and angry Wotan strikes Hunding down for good measure and sets out to find and punish Brünnhilde for defying his command.
Act III begins with the world famous Ride of the Valkyries. Brünnhilde’s Valkyrie sisters – each riding a blade of the Machine – are returning to their mountain stronghold with the bodies of fallen heroes they have recovered from the battlefield. They are concerned about Brünnhilde and when she finally arrives, not with a hero, but with Sieglinde they are afraid to hide her from their angry father.
Sieglinde only wants to die without Siegmund, but Brünnhilde tells her she is pregnant with Siegmund’s child and begs her to live for the sake of the child – who will be named Siegfried. Sieglinde escapes into the woods just as the incensed Wotan appears and demands that Brünnhilde be punished. There is a long, beautiful father-daughter heat-to-heart during which Wotan decides against killing her outright, and then against making her mortal and leaving her to fall prey to the desires of any human male who happens to find her.
In the end, he does make her mortal, but imprisons her in sleep on a mountain of fire until a suitable hero can pass through the flames and awaken her. After a touching and achingly beautiful farewell, Wotan kisses Brünnhilde’s eyelids and summons Loge – the demi-god of fire – to surround her with an impenetrable flame.
This one is my – and most everyone else’s favorite of all four operas in the Ring Cycle. If you are a Wagner fan, you should definitely see it. If you are undecided about Wagner, this one could turn you into a fan. Enjoy!
1. Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde in Wagner’s “Die Walküre” at the Met, 2019. Photo Credit: Richard Termine / Met Opera.
2. Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde in Wagner’s “Die Walküre” at the Met, 2019. Photo Credit: Richard Termine / Met Opera.
3. Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde and Stuart Skelton as Siegmund in Wagner’s “Die Walküre” at the Met, 2019. Photo Credit: Richard Termine / Met Opera.
4. Jamie Barton as Fricka, Greer Grimsley as Wotan and Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde in Wagner’s “Die Walküre” at the Met, 2019. Photo Credit: Richard Termine / Met Opera.
5. Stuart Skelton as Siegmund, Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde and Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde in Wagner’s “Die Walküre” at the Met, 2019. Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich /The New York Times.
6. Christine Goerke, far left, as Brünnhilde, and Greer Grimsley, far right, as Wotan in Wagner’s “Die Walküre” at the Met, 2019. Photo Credit: Richard Termine / Met Opera.
7. Brünnhilde sleeping on her mountain surrounded by fire – The Machine in its full glory! Photo Credit: Richard Termine / Met Opera.