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, controversially 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 in to his overall stage plan.
And Wolfgang Koch as Wotan – boss of the Golden motel in Das Rheingold turns up here as boss of the oil-field – delivers a strong and authoritative reading of this pivotal role in a production which employs and merges stage craft and video work, created by Andreas Deinert and Jens Crull, at every possible opportunity.
For example, when Sieglinde prepares a drink for her husband drugging it to make Hunding sleep deeply so she can enjoy a secret meeting with Siegmund, one catches Hunding on camera tossing and turning in his bed in a soporific state unaware of what’s going on. Scenes alternating between ‘live’ and ‘video’ action work well most of the time but, occasionally, cluttered up and confused the overall stage picture.
Johan Botha and Anja Kampe are well cast in the brother/sister roles of Siegmund and Sieglinde and their performance is suitably complemented by Kwangchul Youn’s moody reading of Hunding while Catherine Foster’s portrayal of Brünnhilde – the first English-born soprano to sing the role at Bayreuth – is absolutely brilliant.
In act III, she and her team of warrior maidens 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 Germans getting their hands on the oil in their great advance of 1942.
The argument between Wotan and his wife Fricka (adorably sung and acted by Claudia Mahnke) concerning the two lovers needing to be punished for the break-up of Hunding’s marriage proved to be a dramatic scene. But as the goddess of marriage, Fricka has no choice but to uphold the laws of matrimony much to Wotan’s annoyance. At the end of the ‘exchange’ he was boiling over.
And the orchestra, under the baton of Kirill Petrenko, found themselves at boiling-point, too, in the opera’s big number, The Ride of the Valkyries, with Maestro Petrenko building the piece up, layer by layer, to a thrilling crescendo. It’s always exciting to hear but in the confines of Bayreuth’s Festspielhaus – built solely for performing the works of Wagner – it sounds even better.