Theater Review: No Horses, but Plenty of Horsepower in “Die Walküre”
“Die Walküre” may be the first opera of Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle to introduce human characters, but the leads in Monday night’s performance demonstrated nearly superhuman singing.
The chief mortals are Siegmund (Stuart Skelton) and Sieglinde (Margaret Jane Wray), twin children of the God Wotan, who were separated at childhood and unwittingly fall in love. Skelton’s lovelorn tenor and Wray’s wistful soprano suit the beautiful musical exchanges as the pair slowly learn, then celebrate their discovered identities.
It’s also Andrea Silvestrelli as Hunding, the husband from whom Sieglinde is stolen, who offers standout singing, with his booming bass that both threatens and soothes.
If you find the incestuous romance icky, you’ll be happy to learn that Wotan’s wife Fricka thinks so too, and she insists that Wotan allow his son to be killed by Hunding in their battle of honor. Stephanie Blythe takes on the goddess’s musically challenging arguments with triumphant vigor and demonstrates her complete mastery of her instrument.
Much of the score is lyrical and full of lamentation, which receives flowing strength under conductor Robert Spano’s baton. Wotan bemoans the limitations on his power when he must accede to Fricka’s demands, which challenges his plan to create a hero that can retrieve the Niebelung’s ring. Greer Grimsely offers moving performances with his glorious bass-baritone as a god who must enforce his own law to his own grief.
No more is this especially true as when he must punish his favorite daughter among the Valkyries, Brünnhilde, for her defiance by helping Siegmund. It’s a refreshing delight to see the curvaceous Janice Baird as Brünnhilde, suitable to the part in physique and age. Despite the initial paleness of her warrior cry in the well-known “Ride of the Valkyries” (easily recognized by fans the film “Apocalypse Now”), she redeems herself fully in her soprano pleadings to her father for forgiveness.
Designer Thomas Lynch continues to astound with his naturalistic sets, with the hefty gnarled ash trees that surround Hunding’s cottage, and the mountain outcropping of the Valkyries that sprout the flames that will surround the sleeping, now mortal Brünnhilde. The design team clearly draws on the familiar drawings of Arthur Rackham and Pre-Raphaelite artists, with Martin Pakledinaz’s richly detailed costumes and lighting designer Peter Kaczorowski’s shifting clouds in the moonlight.
The only disappointment is the absence of the flying horses that the Valkyries ride. It may be too technically challenging to present literally, but some effect (sparkling lights, perhaps) to represent them would have boosted the magic beyond the women’s mere pointing.
The plot, and the music, are sure to thicken as the true hero emerges.
SeattleOpera’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen” runs for three cycles through Aug. 30 at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 301 Mercer St. Tickets: Limited availability for Cycle 3, Aug. 25-30; (206) 389-7676 or seattleopera.org.