Story: Wotan, ruler of the gods, conceives a plan to restore his power following the loss of the Ring of the Nibelung to the dwarf Alberich. Through his relationship with the goddess Erda he has fathered several warrior daughters known as the Walkures (Valkyries), who collect slain soldiers from battlefields to guard Valhalla, the home of the gods.
Disguised as a mortal, Wotan also has fathered twin children, Siegmund and Sieglinde, whom he separated in early childhood and through whom he hopes to regain the Ring. Sieglinde is forced into a loveless marriage with the brutish Hunding, while Siegmund, who calls himself Woeful, is put through countless trials. When a weary Siegmund shows up at Sieglinde’s house, the two fall in love, initially unaware of their sibling relationship.
Hunding learns that Siegmund helped a woman who was being forced into marriage by her brothers, whose relatives included Hunding. Sieglinde drugs Hunding and helps Siegmund find a magic sword (Nothung) that he will use in battle against Hunding. Wotan enlists the aid of his Walkure daughter Brunnhilde to protect Siegmund, but Wotan’s wife Fricka is enraged at the incestuous relationship and demands punishment for the twins.
Brunnhilde disobeys Wotan’s order that Siegmund be killed by Hunding and helps him and Sieglinde, who is now pregnant with Siegmund’s son Siegfried, to escape separately. Wotan demands that his favorite daughter be punished by stripping her of her demigod powers, but softens when she pleads for forgiveness, instead surrounding her with a wall of flames that only the greatest of heroes can work through to save her.
Highlights: Last season Union Avenue Opera began an ambitious, four-year plan to present Richard Wagner’s masterpiece, The Ring Cycle, with a stirring rendition of Das Rheingold. All four of the presentations are based on the 1990 truncated adaptations of Wagner’s sprawling saga by English composer Jonathan Dove and librettist Graham Vick.
The abbreviated Die Walkure nonetheless consumes nearly three hours of performance time. Union Avenue Opera artistic director Scott Schoonover conducts a spirited reading of Wagner’s lush composition (apart from a few shaggy moments in the second act) to complement stage director Karen Coe Miller’s uniformly polished singers in this rendition.
Other Info: While the audience on opening night indicated its appreciation for UAO’s ambitious rendering of Wagner’s 1870 opus, I lacked interest from start to finish, never becoming engaged in the ongoing drama. That’s not to say that the wonderful voices assembled by Miller, including Nathan Whitson’s booming bass as the oafish Hunding, could not be appreciated. Rather, the story seemed plodding in its execution despite the earnest attempts of all involved. Again, though, that is strictly a minority opinion.
What’s certain is the wide array of beautifully articulated voices in this production. Elise Quagliata’s mezzo-soprano soars as the angered Fricka, while Alexandra LoBianco clear soprano resonates in the role of the tortured Brunnhilde.
James Taylor’s resplendent tenor captures the angst and turmoil of Siegmund, while Amber Smoke brings a fitting melancholy to the unhappy Sieglinde with her own distinctive soprano. As Wotan, Timothy Bruno has both the look and the power of the tormented god. Melissa Sumner, Cecelia Stearman and Lindsey Anderson round out the convincing cast as Brunnhilde’s Walkure sisters Helmwige, Waltraute and Rossweisse, respectively.
Patrick Huber’s scenic design utilizes ironwork scaffolding that incorporates Michael Perkins’ projection design (especially clever depicting Sieglinde’s home built around an imposing tree) inside its framework, although Perkins’ use of a ‘dashboard’ of gizmos and controls is more baffling than symbolic. Huber complements the settings with some fine lighting and Teresa Doggett’s costumes bring a sumptuous, mythical look to the proceedings. Lauren Garvey’s props supplement the look of the show.
With the performance sung in German, Elise LaBarge’s supertitles are greatly appreciated, while not distracting from the action on stage.
Die Walkure looked and sounded very much like a popular favorite on opening night, judging by the other patrons in the audience. One point is certain, though: Union Avenue Opera’s presentation is a rare chance, indeed, to see this titanic operatic work performed at all, even in Dove’s and Vick's abbreviated version.
Opera: Die Walkure
Company: Union Avenue Opera
Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Blvd.
Dates: August 23,24
Tickets: $30-$52; student rush tickets available for $15 cash only at the door with valid student ID. Contact 361-2881 or unionavenueopera.org
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Ron Lindsey