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Review: Die Walküre @ Bayreuth Festspielhaus 

Posted by Weeping Tudor from Cardiff - Published on 18/08/2014 at 16:24
0 comments » - Tagged as Culture, Festivals, Movies, Music, Stage, Travel

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Sub-Editor's note: You may not recognise the name of the work but you will recognise this bit when you hear it. 

Bayreuth Festspiele - Die Walküre 
Bayreuth Festspielhaus, Bavaria, Germany
Monday 11th August 2014

After settling into Germany (and adapting to their curious customs), I ventured into the rest of the Ring Cycle

Listening to Anne Russell's hilarious take on Wagner's Ring (I urge you to listen to it also) is the perfect introduction to the Ring and is great laughter-fuel for those in the know. I can't help but agree with, but I love Wagner a great deal. 

"It's the stuff of stereotype"

Die Walküre needs little introduction. Undoubtedly the most famous part of the Ring, it's the stuff of stereotype and great recognition when some people think of opera (large women screaming in helmets and armour). The quote ''It ain't over till the fat lady sings'' also come from the last part of the Ring. This is a very demanding work, lasting four hours - and, yes, it's only one of four Ring instalments (the second, actually - first one reviewed here). The story has now developed to involve the offspring of the head god, Wotan. 

Obsessed with the wise words of Erda, Wotan now seeks her out deep into the Earth. With fruitless pursuits to know more from her, he violently rapes her. She births the eight Valkyries, warrior maidens who pick up brave warriors in battle and take them to Valhalla, via their flying horses. The lead Valkyrie and title of the opera is Brünnhilde (pronounced Bryn-hil-da) and she is her father's right arm (she was bizarrely conceived by sprouting from his head, chain mail and helmet with her). Wotan's sexual exploits with a mortal women also resulted in the birth of the twins, Siegmund and Sieglinde. Separated at a young age, they are able to meet again. This is where part two of the Ring picks up...

"Incest has always been a racy topic"

Siegmund, who has been running from his enemies, finds refuge in a house. It turns out to be that of his sister's, who is now married to Hunding (who is his enemy). Hunding sees the resemblance in them both, but doesn't catch on. He grants Siegmund shelter for the night but in the morning faces battle with him. Giving Hunding a sleeping potion, Sieglinde goes to her brother and they realise they are madly in love with one another (incest has always been a racy topic, but you can get away with anything in opera, so long as you sing it). He miraculously pulls the sword (called Nothung) that Wotan left for him in the ash tree growing in their house (he knew he was coming), and they run off into the night. 

Fricka urgently demands that Wotan tells Brünnhilde not to defend Siegmund in battle with Hunding. Appalled by the incestuous relations that have formed, Fricka does all in her power to make Wotan do this. Brünnhilde, who was geared up to defend Siegmund, is now told by her father to let him die at the hands of Hunding. They both debate this (for what feels like 57 years), with Wotan's compromised word as final. Brünnhilde tells Siegmund he must die. He is happy to as long as his Sieglinde can join him (but won't die without her). She tells him she can't, as she is bearing the child that will save them all. Touched by his devotion, she now vows to help him in battle and, therefore, go against her father. 

As both men brace for battle, the Valkyrie supports Siegmund in his attempts to be victorious. Wotan sees this and breaks his sword, allowing Hunding to deliver the fatal blow. Siegmund lies dead, Nothung in pieces. Brünnhilde files with Sieglinde, with just enough time to retire the broken sword. Wotan lives with his daughter who has betrayed him. In a flash, he kills Hunding with his magic and vows to receive Brünnhilde for her severe punishment. 

"Her baby will save the world"

In the last act (the opening is the famous Ride of the Valkyires), the other eight sisters try and defend Brünnhilde from the furious Wotan. She gives the shattered sword to Sieglinde and tells her that her baby will save the world. We sadly never see Sieglinde again (she is, infact, the only character to be in all three acts of Die Walküre), but the child she is bearing will develop the story in the next opera. Wotan can only see a huge punishment for his daughter, telling the others never to visit her again. They both talk of honour and how they really felt about the twins. Brünnhilde is to be banished upon a rock (her powers taken from her also) high up and ringed with flames from Loge. To sleep for eons. The one who can face this fire without fear shall claim Brünnhilde as his own...

The production remains drastically different from Das Rheingold. Here, a sort of nearly steampunk Russian revolution is going on (featuring two live turkeys in Act One). It blows the previous evening out of the water in style, but the later operas will now have to maintain this as the story keeps the same themes and settings. The video work here was made to look like old propaganda footage from the Soviet era (at times, it was very hard to tell if it was genius footage). Putting me in mind of the Battleship Potemkin, this at times was distracting and superfluous. This Wild West old rig set was grand and imposing, banishing any thoughts of the plastic and metal 50's homage of last night.

"Vintage"

The cast remain as powerful and stand-out as ever. You need very good singers to be Wotan and Brünnhilde. The stamina alone demands so much of you. Like before, Wolfgang Koch was a force to be reckoned with. Looking like half-Hasidic Jew, half-traditional-Odin, this worked in some ways and not others. My regards to Catherine Foster as our Valkyrie. She shimmered and boomed in her honourable take on the role. She will prove her worth as she carries on in later parts of the story. 

Claudia Mahnke with Fricka seemed to use her whip a little too much, but she also looked vintage, if a little Persian. Her ''nagging'' was with great gusto and power of persuasion. Johan Botha and Anja Kampe made a lovely twin couple. You really have to feel that these two were in love; they radiated such a strong force and presence, it was touching. The first act is mainly theirs for the taking but Kwangchul Youn had an evil and horrible presence. What he lacked in stature, he made up for in his portrayal as the nasty wife-beater. The eight Valkyries were also a mass of noise, brimming in stylish My Fair Lady-like costumes (Foster coming out in a punk metal head piece also raised eyebrows).

This show exhausted and moved me (Wotan's Farewell is the saddest part of the whole Ring) but I endeavour to carry on with this great vacation.

Next is Siegfried.

Rating: 8/10

Der Ring Der Nibelungen continues at the Bayreuth Festival in Bavaria, Germany along with performances of 
Tannhäuser, Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) and Lohengrin until Thursday 28th August 2014. 

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Photos Credit: Enrico Nawrath

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