Wagner’s most human work in the Ring cycle, the hub of the wheel, a pivotal moment when the increasingly out-of-kilter world of gods gives way to the chaos of man. We have described The Valkyries in more detail elsewhere, so we turn without further ado to this excellent film of the performance at the Met in NYC in March 2019, based on the original 2011 production.
‘The Machine’ is back: a spidery bundle of rectangular rods, like giant railway sleepers, that spin and flutter to address the comparatively austere settings imagined by the story. These were not entirely satisfactory, but they did nicely set the scenes, with the addition of projected images and back lighting: at attention as trees in the snowy forest; inverted to make the roof of Hunding’s hut; as various mountaintops (in Act III, complete with impressive silent avalanches of snow); as the ‘horses’ bearing the Valkyries to Valhalla, and at the finale, raised to display Brünnhilde’s enforced billet. The cast were clearly a little wary of The Machine – during some of the interviews between acts, a performer recalled that presenter Deborah Voight, as Brünnhilde, tumbled off it during the first production. Even now, with ‘safety modifications,’ there was evidence of circumspection: Greer Grimsley as Wotan crept about the slanted mountain top as though he was tackling the North face of the Eiger, a prudence even more obvious after his spear clattered from its temporary resting place to the main stage. But there is great uncertainty and a sense of global disruption in Die Walküre, and so this tentativeness is not out of place.
In general, however, this was a solid and moving production, with only a few minor glitches in design (the zip atop Wotan’s tunic, the Dunlop Volley-style soles to Brünnhilde’s boots, the fairly unnecessary curtain calls at the end of Acts I and II). But the cast was a dream (set out below), as were the orchestra under Philippe Jordan. At the conclusion, when Wotan has to turn his back on his favourite, embracing and kissing her to render her mortal before leaving her trapped in fiery sleep, it almost plays like early Arthur Miller, and one can see why there were tears and cheers at the curtain.
Christine Goerke (see below) struck just the right note, and all the right notes, as Brünnhilde.
Eva-Marie Westbroek and Stuart Skelton were superb as Sieglinde and Siegmund.
Greer Grinsley achieved a fine sense of the power and confusion of Wotan.
Jamie Barton was an imposing and persuasive Fricka.
Gunther Groissböck was a very impressive and nuanced Hunding.