Richard Wagner's Die Walküre concludes the Met Live in HD series for this season, in a simulcast performance on Saturday, May 14. Note the earlier starting time – 9:00 am – necessary for a longer than usual opera. Tickets are still available: $25 for the general public, $10 for students with a valid ID. Call the Performing Arts Center box office at 805-756-2787 or visit the PAC website.
Opera in May
by Kathryn Bumpass
Die Walkure, the second opera in Wagner's tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen, introduces popular culture's most familiar operatic image, the large woman with spear and horned helmet. This is Brünnhilde, the chief Valkyrie, who with her eight sisters form a guard of warrior women whose duty is to bring fallen heroes to Valhalla, the home of the gods. This opera also includes the most familiar musical number in The Ring, the famous "Ride of the Valkyries," often performed as a brilliant orchestral piece and often parodied as a vocal number.
The Metropolitan Opera has mounted a new production of Wagner's entire Ring, created by Robert LePage, of Cirque du Soleil fame. Together with Carl Fillion, who did the set designs, he conceived a large new piece of stage machinery, dubbed "the Met's new Valhalla machine" by the New York Times. Writing in the issue of Sunday, September 19, 2010, Daniel J. Wakin described the machine as follows:
"The set consists of two 26-foot tall towers holding down an axis, which can move up and down driven by hydraulics. Twenty-four planks. . .are attached to the axis at their thickest points, like seesaws. When at rest, they create a platform that fills most of the stage. But the planks can revolve around the axis together or independently, producing myriad shapes, and they serve as both stage architecture and canvas for projections."
Having missed last October's simulcast of Das Rheingold, the first opera of The Ring,
I can't wait to see this thing. We can also expect video projections which, Wakin says,
"can be shaped by the sounds of the orchestra and the movement of people on stage." This will
be a very high-tech Ring.
Whether or not Wagner would approve of this kind of staging is unknowable. He actually
preferred the term "drama" for his later works, to distinguish them from popular Italian and
French opera of his day. He saw his works as serious theater, rather than mere entertainment.
He thought of The Ring as a kind of communal ritual and intended for the four dramas to
be performed on successive nights at Bayreuth, the theater built specifically for his works. All
that said, in The Ring he created four theatrically brilliant dramas with all the trappings of grand
opera, as we will see in Die Walküre.
In Die Walküre we meet the Hero Siegfried's parents, Siegmund and Sieglinde, who are
children of the chief god Wotan and a mortal woman. They are also brother and sister who
incestuously conceive a child. For their offense, Siegmund dies in a sword fight and Sieglinde is
hidden away until her child can be born. Aiding them is Brünnhilde, the chief of the Valkyries,
who are all children of Wotan and the earth goddess Erda. For her interference in Wotan's plans
for Siegmund and Sieglinde, Brünnhilde is stripped of her status as a Valkyrie and made a
mortal. Wotan puts his favorite daughter to sleep on a rock surrounded by magic fire. Only a
great hero can pass through the fire and awaken her.
It took Wagner more than 20 years to compose the libretto (his preferred term was
"poem") and music of the entire Ring. In a sense he conceived the cycle in reverse order. He
started with plans for an opera to be called "Siegfried's death," eventually Götterdämmerung, Opera, 2.
Thinking a preparation for this was necessary he next planned "Young Siegfried," the present Siegfried. To lay the groundwork for Siegfried's role as the Hero and his relationship to the gods,
he composed Die Walküre. Das Rheingold was to be a prelude to the other three, and an
explanation of the Rhine gold, which, forged into ring, confers power to rule the world. The ring
is revealed as the agent of raw power and is eventually the downfall of the entire human and
divine enterprise. Wagner's Ring is monumental, and not only in length. It is essentially a cosmic
A concert performance from the BBC Proms in 2005, from the Royal Albert Hall.
The opening of act 3 of 'Die Walküre', the "first day" of Richard Wagner's epic cycle of operas 'Der Ring Des Nibelungen'. The greatest, grandest, most revolutionary music drama you will ever encounter!
The Valkyries gather on the rock where they await Brunnhilde. When she arrives, they discover she is fleeing from Wotan after disobeying his orders.
Lisa Gasteen is Brunnhilde.
Waltraud Meier is Sieglinde
The orchestra of the Royal Opera House is conducted by Antonio Pappano.
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A public service announcement: For lovers of all kinds of opera, we have, in San Luis
Obispo, a group called Opera Lovers Meet. Here you can meet other enthusiasts, compare notes
on singers and recordings, and hear interesting presentations on subjects related to opera. The
group meets the first Wednesday of each month, at 10:00 am in the Odd Fellows Hall on Dana
Street. This month's program on May 4 features a discussion of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony
by Maestro Thomas Davies.