Take a Wild Ride with a Valkyrie!! Yes, that’s what all the signs say around Old Baghdad-by-the-Bay…. So, fasten your seatbelts, y’all, it’s going to be a bumpy night!
As it turned out, Die Walküre was an unexpectedly wonderful ride, marking the debut of someone who could be a very important new Brünnhilde, Nina Stemme. All were good to exceptional, but this was a night when the title character, for once, rightfully stood out.
Before I start, I would like to go on a rant about leather raincoats/great coats — when will they disappear from German opera productions? Please God, burn them all in hell!
Act I – The Passion of the Zwillingspaar
The scrim has a projection of water (Das Rheingold?) which begins to swirl and roil when the music begins. It very gradually morphs into a green and then they become leaves, and suddenly we are in the forest, running with Siegmund. All right. We arrive in front of the facade of a frame house. Guess what? The mystery of “what ever happened to Minnie’s cabin door” has been solved… it was delivered by mistake chez Hunding! Well, at least what’s lost was found. Maybe if Eva-Maria Westbroek gets a chance to sing Minnie she’ll bring the door with her.
But meanwhile, back at the door in question, Sieglinde is anxiously looking out when she sees a strange man. Siegmund is Christopher Ventris, a British fellow whom I’ve seen do Parsifal, and liked. He has apparently now done this role at Bayreuth. They do their usual recognition thing (nicely) until that nasty husband comes home, with a bunch of his cracker homeboys. Hunding is a Major Macho creepo — we’ve all known one or two — and for once becomes a character to contend with not just a cipher in the background witnessing the Zwillingspaar’s Lust. He has Sieglinde rustle up some grub for his homies, then questions Siegmund. He can’t keep his hands off Sieglinde, either, all that good ol’ boy slapping of the behind. We already know that he can’t keep his hands off her as she has big reddish hand imprints on either arm.
Oh, I forgot to mention she’s wearing a sleeveless schmatte in light green with a little apron, along with a strawberry blond wig, or maybe her own hair? Whatever, she certainly looks the part. Miss Westbroek is very good at playing the abuse victim/sexy wife, so you all get the picture. Some good singing; all solid and projected and more focused than last night’s, but by no means clarion. Very credible, animated, and involved. The voice is good and improves when she goes up the staff but there is a little too much vibrato, generally speaking. Mr. Ventris is a good, solid singer who is sympathetic and earnest but not glamorous like a Kaufmann, for example. He does not crack like certain other Wagnerian tenors I’ve seen at the Metropolitan, either. No names, but you know who they are.
Oh, nearly forgot about the interior of the house — it is a paneled finished basement type — trophy room with elk or moose heads and little trophies all over plus a nauseating painting of an elk/moose/Bambi’s Dad. In short, the Hundings need an interior decorator. Desperately. Sieglinde is, in case you didn’t figure it out, the trophy wife. It truly is amazing how Hunding manages to sleep through all that noisy lovemaking and sword pulling and falling down. Maybe had she done the famous “Leonie Schrei”, he would have awakened. Beside all that carrying on, his house splits apart at the point of “Wintersturme” to show that an ol’ debbil moon is shining out there — certainly a contributing factor to The P. of the Z.! They run into the night like a pair of wild bunnies, but not before they do the obligatory Bayreuth 1976 grappling of one another down on the floor.
Act II — Daddy’s Girl
Do you all know how you have a scenario in your head about how you think a character should be and totally despair of ever seeing it that way? Well, I’ve had this idea about Brünnhilde and I never thought I would see it realized. Tonight I did.
Okay, we’re back to that scrim-screen again. Saves money, doncha know. This time we graduate from the forest flight of the Zwillingspaar to what looks like some high-rises in Manhattan. WHAT? Well, you see, old Chief Executive Officer Wotan apparently works out of the Chrysler Building! Wow, I didn’t know that from reading The Victor Book of the Opera, but now I do. Mark Delavan is the strapping (with apologies to TT) and appropriately imposing Wotan. Scene opens with him closing a deal on the phone. He sings his first lines and then the mailroom boy enters… oh no, that’s Brünnhilde! Bufugliest costume I’ve ever seen — boots, maroon coat, severe pageboy. Brunny’s a boy? Stemme comes on like gang busters and JUMPS UP onto the big boardroom table as she is singing the “Ho-jo-to-ho!” Wow- – just try to wrap your imagination around Jane Eaglen doing this staging. Stemme’s is a very solid and warm voice, No vibrato twittering nor wobbles, mirabile dictu!
Big bad Fricka looks like that matron lady from the thirties movies; forgot her name. Now, this artist, Janina Baechle, is so fine and such a commanding and persuasive Ballbreaker, that one FINALLY understands why Wotan caves in. She is one Big Bad Byotch, but she is right, unfortunately, and for those of us who believe in “Free Love” (remember that?), a really big downer. She gets him to sign a contract in a big book and then saunters over to Brünnhilde and menacingly takes leave of her. Frl. Baechle is a regular of the Vienna State Opera and a most impressive artist, vocally and in her stage craft. It’s the first time I’ve been sorry to see Fricka leave the stage. Brava!
Mr. Delavan, whom I’ve seen sing Wagner before, appears to have finally found his true calling in the part of Wotan. Now he needs to find his true voice, too, instead of wolfing down George London records for breakfast like Wheaties. There are a lot of dark, woofy and wooly overtones that are appropriate but the sound lacks a real core and toward the third act the sound had slightly diminished. Get with the plan, man! He’s got the physique du role like crazy — just got to complete the sound body.
Swirling scrim time again. Down, down, down we come from the Chrysler Building or wherever that was on the Isle of Manhattan and we are headed for — I dunno, is it DUMBO? Anyway, we see pilings underneath a bridge or thruway or something – abandoned tires and a car seat are scattered around. Suddenly, we see The Twins, apparently now out of the woods, as it were, running around in terror.
Westbroek flips out – good singing, better acting – and Brünnhilde, now in an even buFUGlier pleather greenish snakeskin coat, trimmed with a little brown fur ruff to mirror her little brown page boy, makes her appearance singing to him from behind a piling. Stemme is utterly convincing in portraying the gradual understanding of the alien concept of “love.” Sieglinde’s nasty-piece -of-macho-business-husband comes on, accompanied by the menacing homeboys who really rough Sieglinde up — yuck-!-and then, of course, the battle ensues — still at the pilings (thought it was leftovers from Attila for a minute). Wotan gives Hunding the Horrible a big manhug and then twists his neck sideways. Didn’t really work as Hunding (Raymond Aceto) looked not that indefensible, but hey, Big Daddy rules.
Act III – You Gotta Have Das Ende
Remember Gypsy? (What am I saying? This is for parterre.com. You readers could all perform Gypsy, at a moment’s notice!) Anyway, when I saw this show as a kid, I fell head over heels with the song “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” and tortured family members with my rendition. Well, that’s what you’ve got here in the third act: a gimmick. Suddenly, my gentle Parterreans, it all became crystal clear as to why a picture of a 1930′s aviatrix (Amy Johnson, actually) was staring out from the cover of tonight’s program. Remember that bufugly costume of Brunny’s? Well, she’s not a Manhattan messenger boy. No, She’s Amelia Earhart! The Valkyries of the Wild Ride are aviatrixes who float in on parachutes! Yeay, Team Zambello, you’ve figured out a clever new, positive power girl way to solve the old, old problem of how to de-nazify and re-dykeify the valkyries. Total B.S., but cute and different.
Where was I?
The scrim! Oh hell’s bells, you all know by now we are on the Valkyrie’s mountain rooftop hideout, however that scrim got us here. Miss Westbroek’s voice rose to the occasion. She has really got this victim thing down pat. Usually, I dislike the victim character and want to tell them to buck up. She really makes her characters sympathetic. Would certainly like her to have a chance of singing Minnie — would be interesting.
Daddy returns and they have quite a moving scene. It brought many tears to my eyes as you could see where this would all lead. Brünnhilde would become the agent — the true inner will and its corollary power of agency — by virtue of being ‘man’ enough to be true to her feelings and most especially to have the integrity that her beloved Father, a potent figure, surely, but ultimately weakened by his lack of integrity and the great crime of hardening and bargaining his heart away in the big bazaar of life.
Loge delivered the fire right on cue and without mishap. Mr. Delavan’s grand flourishing of his spear during the fire music was memorably grand scale and an effective theatrical tragic glamour. Brünnhilde burned nicely. Very poignant.
Stemme provided the kind of beautifully realized and fully-felt character that lent a real pathos to the final scene. That same pathos was sadly lacking in the final scene of Fanciulla the previous last night, and for which I would have forgiven many peccadilloes.
Hats off, Gentlemen, at last, a believable Brünnhilde. An athletic, youthful presence and an even-scaled, firm, round, warm voice with absolutely no discernible vocal tremors. If I ruled the Met, and not a certain Genius, I’d have Miss Stemme in the Valkyrie parachute come next spring.
Miss Voigt, what color is your parachute?
(Photo: Cory Weaver / AP)