I spent another fantastic evening with the Canadian Opera Company through the magic of radio. This time the sopranos dominated, especially during the thrilling Ride of the Valkyries. Anyone who who has watched Bugs Bunny (or Apocalypse Now) is familiar with the music, if not the Hojotoho’s. But you have to wait until the third act for the heart-pounding entrance of the warrior-maidens.
If Das Rheingold was about love versus power, Die Walküre is about love versus order. In the first act Siegmund, Wotan’s mortal son, fleeing foes and drawn by magic, finds his long lost twin sister Sieglinde, who is trapped in a loveless marriage with the brutish Hunding. Naturally (?) they fall madly in love with each other and run off together. They are challenged by Hunding, and Wotan makes ready to protect his son in battle. At least until his wife Fricka, Goddess of Marriage, gets wind of the elopement. In Act Two she tears a strip off Wotan for allowing mere mortals to flout the holy bond of matrimony, and warns him that if the are allowed to prevail the gods’ power will be eroded—it’s the thin edge of the wedge. She also criticizes him for approving incest, and, in good wifely fashion, reminds him that Sigmund and Sieglinde are the product of his own infidelity.
Wotan has no choice but to let Siegmund fall. He instructs his daughter-Valkyrie Brünnhilde to take Siegmund to Valhalla, but she perceives that it is really his son that he favours, and disobeys him. Wotan himself has to interfere in the battle and both men are killed, but Brünnhilde escapes with Sieglinde. The third act opens with the Ride of the Valkyries, who call to each other and joke about the warriors they are carrying to Valhalla. Warlike creatures they are; it is only Brünnhilde, beloved of her father and moved by Siegmund’s love for Sieglinde, who finds her heart. She arrives and asks her sisters for protection from their father’s wrath but they are afraid and they scatter. In an act of self-sacrifice, Brünnhilde tells Sieglinde to flee, while she stands to take Wotan’s punishment on herself. Her father, though he loves her dearly, has no choice but to strip her of her godhood and see her no more. He laments that his supreme godhood makes him the least free of all. In the heartbreaking last scene, Wotan sends Brünnhilde into a deep sleep, surrounded by a ring of fire, through which only one free of fear can pass to claim her as his mortal wife. In the end, order reigns, but love lives to fight another day.
All that, my friends, takes a mere four and a half hours to tell. It’s definitely the longest performance of any kind I’ve ever sat through (yet—I don’t know how long the others will be), and it was worth every minute. I paid more attention to the music this time and let me tell you the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra is on fire. Their sound is silky smooth, crisp, and powerful, partly thanks to the acoustically magnificent hall which people continue to remark upon. The players got a special ovation just before the third act to give them that little extra something for the Ride of the Valkyries, and it seems to have worked. As for the singers, Canadian Adrianne Pieczonka who sang Sieglinde was truly wonderful, and Susan Bullock gave us a rousing Brünnhilde. Both Wotan and Fricka were sung by understudies, as the original Wotan still has laryngitis and the original Fricka had a dental emergency. They say the Ring operas are the most demanding in the repertoire, and if you aren’t in top form there is no way you’ll get through it. Even the replacement Wotans (there are two, since it is a huge role in both Das Rheingold and Die Walküre) struggled to make it to the end. It takes a special singer to do Wagner.
The Company (and the audience!) now gets a day off to recover, but we will reconvene on Friday
evening afternoon for Siegfried, and the final opera the Ring Cycle, Götterdämmerung will air Sunday afternoon. Now I must go see if my copy of The Ring Cycle has arrived in the mail yet. 🙂