The Copenhagen Ring has been dubbed the feminist Ring with good reason and we’ll come back to that in looking at the relationship between Wotan and Brünnhilde. It might also be called the drinkers’ Ring. There’s an astonishing amount of boozing going on. It was there in Rheingold with Loge’s hangover and Alberich staggering drunkenly after the Rhinemaidens. It’s back in Die Walküre. Hunding and Siegmund knock off the best part of a bottle of Bushmill’s Malt (Add a few cigars and this scene would be perfect for Stuart Skelton and Iain Paterson), Wotan has a flask in his pocket and the Walkyries; Ride is like a sorority party. Actually it reminds me a lot of Denmark so maybe it just seemed natural.
So, to the action. In Die Walküre we have moved forward a generation to the 1950s. Sieglinde (Gitta-Maria Sjöberg) is very much the housewife, as well as abused wife, and Siegmund (Stig Andersen) looks decidedly unheroic; more like an encyclopedia salesman than a warrior. Hunding (Stephen Milling) though has a real air of menace and the tension in the opening scenes with the three of them is electric. The whole first act is very strong with fine singing and acting. In Scene 3 it’s Sieglinde who pulls Nothung from the tree not Siegmund. We have, at least briefly, a Sieglinde in control of her own destiny.
Act 2 is equally compelling. Brünnhilde (Iréne Theorin) is very girlish at the start; the start of her story, or herstory perhaps. Randi Stene’s Fricka is scary and very human. No cartoon goddess in a ram’s chariot but a hurt and angry woman. It’s a compelling reading and very well sung. James Johnson’s rather dry toned Wotan is rather blown away. Brünnhilde’s scene with Siegmund is a logical development. We see her grow from girl to woman as she grasps the implications of what she has been ordered to do versus what her conscience tells her to do. We also, in the most touching way, see Siegmund choose humanity and death over Valhalla and what it represents, foreshadowing Brünnhilde’s own trajectory. All of this is played out with the attention to detail that characterises this whole project.
Act 3 opens with the boozed up Valkyries high fiving and tossing corpses in battle dress all over the place. They wear blood stained evening dresses (actually evening dresses sort of crossed with riding outfits) to heighten the party atmosphere. I don’t think in previous watchings of Die Walküre I’d quite realised how much sexual innuendo there is in this scene. Of course things rapidly get darker in the Wotan/Brünnhilde confrontation. Christie of Tiny Doom’s Opernpalais always complains about what a shit Wotan is but it took this version of the piece for it to really sink in for me. Wotan is usually presented as the controlling character of the work. Here we see him revealed as a bumbling schemer projecting his rage at his own ineffectiveness onto Brünnhilde because she’s a woman and a daughter and has outraged his patriarchal self-importance and so must be punished. It culminates in one of those moments of brutality that are scattered through this Ring. In this case, to de-immortalise Brünnhilde, Wotan rips off her wings. It’s chilling.
Summarising the performance; once again Kasper Holten’s direction and the teamwork that comes from an ensemble accustomed to working together bring off a dramatically strong interpretation of an interesting concept. Good singing and fine playing from the Royal Danish Opera Orchestra under Michael Schønwandt make this Die Walküre more enjoyable than many of the starrily casted versions out there.
Video direction and technical details are pretty much the same as Das Rheingold.i.e. Blu-ray would have been better! The two disk package does include a really good half hour conversation about the Ring between Kasper Bech Holten and HM Queen Margrethe of Denmark. It’s very informal. Two highly intelligent people sitting on a sofa talking animatedly about Wagner, dramaturgy and this Ring in particular. HM really knows and loves her opera! How different from the home life of our own dear queen.