The winter storms abate; Wagner’s grandiose music sweeps the stage clean, and our souls as well. The transformation from last month’s deliriously cluttered Rheingold to the spacious, think-for-yourself Die Walküre is as the composer and his music ordained, and the earthlings at the Chandler Pavilion have fulfilled his bidding. There is much in our local Ring that you have to take home and sort out for yourselves, but I found that task stimulating. Several days later, even with the digression of a Rigoletto to help wash things down, I find myself still thrall to this profound and profoundly moving experience.
You start, of course, with the sibling-lovers, their stage costumes half-designed so that they come together, with some help from the lighting guys, as a whole. That our 68-year-old youthful Siegmund is so capable is enough of a miracle, but there is more: Plácido Domingo’s Siegmund is actually, genuinely good. At the dress-rehearsal three days before, when he could have sung at half-voice just to mark the part, he did no such thing, and it was thrilling both times – even thrilling to watch. Anja Kampe, the Sieglinde, was with him all the way. What I heard at the Saturday opening-night performance was, in fact, a vocal event of genuine high standards: Linda Watson, a truly moving Brünnhilde most of all in her final appeals to the punishment-intent Wotan, Vitalij Kowaljow a Wotan more tender-voiced than thundering perhaps, and eminently believable, Michelle DeYoung a rock-solid bitch of a Fricka. (Let it be noted that Fricka’s Act Two argument, upholding the tenets of marriage along traditional boundaries, earned the audience snickers it deserved.)
Achim Freyer’s stage-painting — which is what it really is – depicts a rising, hurtling, cresting, falling wave, moving continuously, unstoppable. Nothing interrupts the continuous surge. The silences – Siegmund, breathless, awaits his destiny while Hunding’s drumbeats sound in his body; nature stands suspended as the James Conlon’s fine orchestra maintains its breath and Springtide fills the room — pound in our conscience. More than the cluttered Rheingold, this Walkuere builds its superlative suspense out of emptiness.
The signature action, the all-too-famous Ride, bursts upon us in its renowned absurdity. As if only underline awareness of the music’s silliness, Freyer decks his warrior maidens in ravens’ wings and endows them with gadgetry from trashed bicycle gear and umbrellas (or so it looked; I’ll go back again). It all sounded marvelous. Mythology aside Die Walküre is one of the greatest of Romantic operas, at this moment, at least, it strikes these enchanted ears as Wagner’s best. I’m glad I went.
Oh yes, Rigoletto. That came about because my friends Dick and Harriet drive down regularly to the San Diego Opera’s Sunday matinees, and usually return full of praise, and it occurred that I hadn’t been to an opera there (I think it was Renée Fleming in Russalka) in far too long. San Diego’s company does a five-opera season; Britten’s Peter Grimes is next, opening on April 18 for five performances. Anthony Dean Griffey, the excellent Grimes of the recent Met performance and DVD, singe the role again.
There’s one more Rigoletto, this Wednesday April 8. It’s a first-rate performance, sparked by Lado Ataneli in the name role and L’Ubica Vargiconá, the Gilda, both of whom let loose in the “Si, vendetta” duet like nobody’s business. Giuseppe Gipali, the Duke, has a voice with the sweetness of the young Pavarotti, but not quite the strength to hold it on course. The sets, from the New York City Opera, are still bright and meaningful and the sound-effect guys really go at it in the third-act thunderstorm. I’m glad I went.