Wagner - Die Walkure / Berkeley-Steele, Watson, Polaski, Struckm... Cover Art

Wagner - Die Walkure / Berkeley-Steele, Watson, Polaski, Struckmann, Halfvarson, Braun, de Billy, Barcelona Opera (DVD)

Bertrand de Billy, Richard Berkeley-Steele, Eric Halfvarson, Falk Struckmann, Linda Watson

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Where Das Rheingold introduces us to the gods, underworld denizens, and giants who inhabit the world of Wagner's Ring cycle, the second of the four operas, Die Walküre, focuses on the interaction of men and gods. The turbulent orchestra brings Siegmund, Wotan's earthly son, into the home of his vicious enemy, Hunding, whose wife Sieglinde turns out to be Siegmund's newfound lover and twin sister. The gods meddle in their showdown battle, with Wotan bowing to his wife Fricka's demand that he uphold the sanctity of marriage by allowing Hunding to win. Wotan's favorite daughter, Brunnhilde, sides with Siegmund, earning Wotan's unbridled anger. She manages to shelter the now-pregnant Sieglinde, though, before being banished forever from Valhalla to a mountaintop ringed by fire.

Like its predecessor, producer Harry Kupfer's Barcelona production of Die Walküre is spare and symbolic, the darkened stage dominated by the ash tree from which Siegmund extracts the sword planted by Wotan years earlier. Lighting transforms the stage with brilliant effects, creating striking images like the screen backdrop upon which light bars symbolize the ring of fire with which Wotan surrounds the mountaintop upon which Brunnhilde sleeps until a brave hero will wake her. Such bold strokes are sometimes sabotaged by scenes of the Valkyre sisters wandering around the stage aimlessly or of Brunnhilde painting Siegmund's face with white paint, transforming him into a warrior in a Noh play.

Falk Struckmann's Wotan is more petulant than commanding, with a bleat sometimes infecting sustained high notes. The great confrontation between Wotan and Brunnhilde features an intense Deborah Polaski, who captures the pathos of the valkyrie's plight. Her Brunnhilde cheerfully struts as the aggressive warrior, displays troubled anxiety as the disobedient daughter, and her final dialogue with Wotan is sung with tonal warmth, moving in her plea to modify her punishment. But where the great Wotans of the past infuse their voices with tenderness and make palpable the character's regret at cutting off his favorite daughter, Struckmann seems more comfortable in a hectoring mode. He's also the loser in another great confrontation scene, where he's out-sung and out-acted by Lioba Braun's Fricka. Eric Halfvarson is a black-voiced, nasty Hunding, while the ill-starred lovers, tenor Richard Berkeley-Steele as Siegmund and soprano Linda Watson as Sieglinde, sing well and act with feeling. Bertrand de Billy conducts with an understanding of the ebb and flow of Wagnerian structure, but tension sometimes slackens, as in the last scene's fire music and the tame "Ride of the Valkyries." --Dan Davis

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