Defending the 12th century since the 14th; blogging since the 21st.

Catholicism, Conservatism, the Middle Ages, Opera, and Historical and Literary Objets d'Art blogged by a suburban dad who teaches law and writes stuff.

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Who was Cacciaguida? See Dante's PARADISO, Cantos XV, XVI, & XVII.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007
OK, here's what the recent DIE WALKÜRE posts have been about: I saw the Washington Opera's new production last week, and here is my review.

Anja Kampe, DC's Sieglinde:

Ist es der Blick
der blühenden Frau,
den dort haftend
sie hinter sich liess,
als aus dem Saal sie schied?

I like "traditional" productions (I'm a last-ditch, so-sue-me defender of the Met's). Nonetheless, I found director Francesca Zambello's "American" production to be very well thought out, and for the most part very effective.

Bad news first: the Ride of the Valkyries, featuring scrim-projected images of airplanes and paratroopers, misfired badly. If an audience laughs through the Ride, something's wrong. Lesson learned: Apocalypse Now is Apocalypse Now, and DIE WALKÜRE is DIE WALKÜRE. Movin' on.

Everything else, though, really really worked. Putting Hunding's hut in backwoods Appalachia was fine, given the premise of "an American RING." I liked the idea that Siegmund collapses outside the hut rather than in: after "Hunding will ich erwarten," the Chekhovian "fourth wall" disappears into the flyspace, and Siegmund is admitted inside.

The CEO's office setting of the first part of Act II also appealed to me more than I thought it would (though the gimmick of Fricka being "buzzed in" via a phone call taken by Brunnhilde was just that -- gimmicky.) I loved the passive-aggressive newspaper-reading indulged in by Wotan and Fricka at various points.

The "underneath the highway" setting for the second half of Act II has drawn criticism, but, apart from the fact that it required an otherwise-unnecessary scene change (after all, part of the drama of Act II as conceived is that these incredibly pivotal events all take place in one mountain pass), I was grabbed by the idea that Brünnhilde's reorientation of values, and the end of the road for both Siegmund and Hunding, should all take place amid symbols of long roads, unforeseen exits, and mysterious journeys.

As for Act III, once the less-said-the-better Ride was over, what's not to like? With Alan Held as Wotan, towering like an unsteady skyscraper in his fur-collared coat, and sounding godlike indeed, and with Linda Watson's Brünnhilde fully up to the task (even if not erasing memories of Nilsson), it was vocally and dramatically solid.

And then Wotan climbs the tower decked with photos of dead heroes, invokes Loge, points to a corner, and BOOM -- fire! Not steam-jets and orange light-gels, but a framework of gas-jets that starts in the corner Wotan points to and slowly and methodically spreads around the stage. Real fire! (Backed up by much orange flickering on the rear-stage screen.)

In an age in which fireplaces can be started by "remotes" just as televisions can, I guess Wagnerian directors are liberated from the need for matches or lighters. (Whether they are likewise liberated from insurance bills is something I couldn't help wondering.)

Placido Domingo had a cold, but the only way you'd know it was that he was fudging his consonants towards the end of Act I; and of course, "So blühe den Wälsungen Blut" was perfunctory. Other than that, he sounded fine throughout. Elizabeth Bishop was an excellent Fricka.

But none of the above is the main point. The main point is Anja Kampe as Sieglinde. Try to imagine a Sieglinde with the looks of a young Silja and the sound of a young Crespin, and you'll start to get the picture.

She's tiny, yet at the end of a long night she sang out a "Hehrstes Wunder" with power to match Watson's, and a much more crystalline sound. At "Siegmund, so nenn'ich dich," she drew the first syllable out into a fermata (with dear old Heinz Fricke accommodating her in the pit). It was a wonderful moment: not only was Sieglinde joyful, but so, clearly, was Anja. Like the warhorse in Job, she was pawing in the valley and rejoicing in her strength. And we all rejoiced with her.