LICEU BARCELONA, MAY 19, 2014
Morality has little to say for itself in Wagner’s Ring, and Die Walkure, which opened on May 19th at the Liceu, is clear evidence of that statement. Details such as incest and adultery (both centerstage) pale before the big stuff: mortals used as pawns, prearranged deaths and rigged victories. We are all familiar with the military chaplains who, on both sides of a war, pray to (presumably) the same god to come to their aid. But this goes way beyond that. Men are killed by the gods to soothe a henpecked wife or aid in the search for lost jewelry. A pregnant woman is threatened with death because she is in the way of heavenly plans. And all of this is part of the antique German mythology that Wagner accepted and revered.
As a musical evening, it was outstanding. Both singers and orchestra were on top form and, sitting back and trying to accept the staging, I enjoyed every minute of the sound. Conductor Josep Pons kept his players at a well-balanced pitch, and individual instruments, in particular the English horn, were superb. For the most part, with small moments of exception, the singers were in great voice and their emotions poured forth richly.
Anja Kampe was an exquisite Sieglinde, beautiful in voice and convincing as an actress. She will have serious competition, I think, from Eva-Maria Westbroek, who sings the part in the second cast. Westbroek was spectacular last year at the Met, together with Jonas Kaufmann as Siegmund. So audiences have two opportunities to hear a delightful singer in the role. Siegmund, Klaus Florian Vogt, was somewhat lacking in personality as an actor. He was certainly an unconvincing hero; he seemed more of an introverted poet. This affected his singing, which was respectable but lacked force.
Irene Theorin more than made up for it in her zesty performance as Brunhilde, and both she and her father Wotan (Albert Dohmen, who sang the role in Walkure at the Liceu in 2003, and then again in Rheingold last year) reduced me to tears at the end of the third act. The confrontation is surely one of the most heartbreaking exhibitions of father-daughter love and conflict in the dramatic pantheon. Eric Halfvarson, as Hunding, and Mihoko Fujimura, as Fricka, both made the most of their short but dramatic roles. Brunhilde’s eight Walkure sisters were formidable, full-voiced and entirely satisfying (though I think they should frequent a different dressmaker).
As melodrama, it should have made for a good evening’s entertainment. Alas,however, this time it did not. Overall, I felt that the evening dragged. And I believe that the blame lies squarely with Robert Carsen’s production. When I saw Rheingold last year, I admitted that, while I did not love the staging, I had to respect the interesting setting in a post-apocalyptic world of decay and ecological disaster. But Mr. Carsen seems to have lost the sense of logic in this, the second part of the same story. Ugliness and emptiness prevail unrelieved, but much of it seems to have no purpose. Why do Sieglinde and Hunding live in the middle of a forest in a space surrounded by grim boxes and cartons? Why, in the climactic scene leading up to the already decided battle between the husband and the brother/lover, does there have to be a clapped-out jeep on one side of the stage. What does such an inappropriate prop need to be there at all? And, most of all, how can the audience get engrossed in a story of a mythical hero who doesn’t have the sense to realize that the all-powerful sword he is waving doesn’t stand a logical chance against a battery of rifles such as we saw when Hunding and his horde came home from hunting? Why should we be expected to subdue our intelligence and sit back unquestioningly?
Ah well, Mr. Carsen has, one assumes, two more episodes to go, and I shall certainly be there to hear the singers and orchestra, while swallowing my objections to the unnecessary mindgames. The music, even if one has to close one’s eyes, is still sublime.
The current production runs through June 3. The first cast will appear in the performances of May 22, 25, 28, 31 and June 3. The second cast, with Eva-Maria Westbroek, Frank van Aken as Siegmund, Catherine Foster as Brunhilde, Greer Grimsley as Wotan, Ante Jerkunica as Hunding and Katarina Karneus as Fricka, will appear on May 23, 27 and 30.