In the second part of Wagner’s Ring cycle, Die Walküre – first seen in 2013 as part of the complete cycle to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Wagner’s birth – Berlin-based, avant-garde, theatre director, Frank Castorf, unconventionally dumps the opera’s traditional romantic Rhineland setting for the rough-and-tough world of oil prospecting transporting the scenario to the city of Baku on the Caspian Sea in pre-Revolutionary Russia. ‘Black gold’, therefore, becomes the treasured Nibelung hoard.
His productions, too, often involve garbage-littered stages therefore a few old discarded tabloid pages (most probably those with bad reviews!) were duly incorporated into his overall stage plan.
As boss of the Golden motel in Das Rheingold, Wotan turns up here as boss of the Baku oil-field and Swedish baritone, John Lundgren, delivers a strong and authoritative reading of this pivotal role in a production employing and merging stagecraft and video work, skilfully created by Andreas Deinert and Jens Crull, at every possible opportunity.
For example, when Sieglinde prepares a potion for her husband Hunding to make him sleep deeply so she can enjoy a secret rendezvous with Siegmund, one catches him on camera tossing and turning in his bed in a soporific state unaware of what’s going on. Scenes like this, alternating between ‘live’ and ‘video’ action, worked well most of the time but, occasionally, cluttered up and confused the overall stage picture.
Christopher Ventris and Heidi Melton proved a good pairing in the brother/sister roles of Siegmund and Sieglinde while Georg Zeppenfeld put in a stunning and commanding performance as Hunding. His deep bass voice is second to none and he chilled the air just by his presence. And Catherine Foster’s portrayal of Brünnhilde – the first English-born soprano to sing the role at Bayreuth – is absolutely brilliant. She’s delightful and is blessed with a strong and confident voice that harbours so much tonal colour. Her curtain-call was thunderous!
In act III, Brünnhilde and her team of warrior maidens – seen enjoying an hen-type party all dolled up in fancy dress with a bottle in hand – have to navigate some tricky stage movement charging about on a variety of uneven surfaces of an oil-rig platform gathering the Fallen Heroes who, in this instance, are workers battling against the odds after being overcome by toxic fumes following the Soviet’s decision to dynamite the rig to stop the great German advance of 1942 and their desperate need for oil to fuel their war effort.
The argument between Wotan and his wife Fricka (comfortably sung by Sarah Connolly) over Siegmund needing to be punished for the break-up of Hunding’s marriage proved a great dramatic scene. But as the goddess of marriage, Fricka has no choice but to uphold the laws of matrimony much to the annoyance of Wotan. At the end of the ‘exchange’ he was boiling over.
And so was the orchestra! Under the baton of Marek Janowski, the players found themselves on top form especially in the opera’s big number, The Ride of the Valkyries, with Maestro Janowski building the piece up, layer by layer, to a thrilling and exciting crescendo. It’s a glorious piece to hear at any time but to hear it in the confines of Bayreuth’s Festspielhaus, built solely for performing the Teutonic works of Richard Wagner, it’s simply pure magic! Wunderbar!