Atom Egoyan’s shift as director for Die Walküre is, not surprisingly, produced the most visually appealing production of the Ring Cycle. The element of fire is the glue. In Act I, Hunding’s (Phillip Ens, resplendent with every phrase) heat-giving hearth attracts Siegmund (Clifton Forbis, enchanting caramel tone if somewhat prone to unfocussed vibrato) like a moth to a flame. After the obligatory night of hospitality, the pair agree to fight to the death after breakfast. The prize is Hunding’s unloving wife, Sieglinde (Adrianne Pieczonka, whose moving farewell is nothing short of spectacular). She longs to be freed from a life of tyranny so that she may sleep with her long-lost twin brother and bear his child in time for the third installment of Wagner’s muddled-relationship treatise.
In the interminably slow-moving middle frame, Brünnhilde (Susan Bullock is full-throated and credible at every turn) is draped in white and front-lit with a loop of digital flames that, like Richard Bradshaw’s one-dimensional rendering of the subtle and sublime orchestration, only adds to the sense of tedium; magnificent wonder is missing in action. The infamous Valkyrie informs Siegmund that she, literally, has a look that kills, but not to worry, when he dies she will take him to everlasting life in Valhalla. There won’t be seventy-two virgins, but the doomed combatant is assured many comely maidens. And so the suicide warrior heads into battle only to have his magical sword split into pieces by his father Wotan (Peteris Eglitis, who waits far too long to demonstrate his inner rage; when he does “which I later broke” evokes shivers of despair that would have been equally welcome forty minutes sooner). Hunding triumphs and delights in pushing home his regular blade to the hilt.
To punish his own-minded daughter, Wotan strips Brünnhilde of her immortality (and, tellingly, ties her power-giving, red hand-bracelets to his mighty spear), condemning her to sleep until “one who does not know fear” rescues her and then becomes her husband. At his fallen daughter’s bidding, Wotan summons Loge, the god of fire and demands a protective ring of flames be installed about his impetuous favourite. Who better than the Valkyries! Each brings a pair of gas-fuelled candles, which, when finally encircled, produces a cinematically crafted image that took the breath away of the capacity crowd and left them cheering for more.
With Michael Levine’s colossal set (save and except for the body bags that are tossed about more like refuse than the slaughtered) and beautifully rendered lighting plot, Egoyan has brought the look of this monstrously difficult opera to a truly fantastic level. If only the well-prepared, beautifully sung music could lodge in its own Valhalla of art. JWR