“Die Walküre” @ Lyric Opera of Chicago

3 out of 4 stars

Father/daughter relationships seem to be at the center of this year’s season at Lyric Opera. After a terrific Rigoletto now comes a new production of Wagner’s Die Walküre, part two of a four year long endeavor by Lyric to produce the entire Ring Cycle. Not unlike Rigoletto, Wagner’s musical drama shows us a devoted daughter, the warrior-maiden Brünhilde, who moved by love disobeys her father Wotan, king of the gods. But if in Rigoletto the young heroine Gilda died as a tragic consequence of her father’s blind quest for vengeance, in Die Walküre Wotan punishes his daughter’s disobedience conscientiously, depriving her of immortality and placing her under a magic sleep on top of a desolate rock, defenseless against whatever man comes and claims her as his wife. 

In Eric Owen’s portrayal, Wotan suffers this punishment every bit as much as his daughter. His is a vocally commanding but aging leader, full of ennui, bitter, tormented by the realization that, although he’s a god, he’s not omnipotent, twisted by circumstances that force him to act against his heart. If Das Rheingold showed us Wotan’s love for power, which now tears at him, Die Walküre is primarily a story about the power of love. Enter Brünhilde, who in the very capable hands of Christine Goerke displays buoyancy, bravura and rebellious braggadocio. Her voice is energetic, strong and clear like a gush of water, but she’s able to taint it with the kind of longing and sadness that utterly destroy you. The farewell scene between her and Wotan, right before magic fire surrounds her rock, was a moving and powerful testament to the force of Wagner’s music. 

Had the staging been on par with the music and the singing, we would be looking at a knockout production. Director David Pountney places the action inside a sort of theater. There’s scaffolding and rigging on the sides and a proscenium-like structure upstage; visible stagehands operate spotlights and the cranes that support the horses for the ride of the Walkyries. Nothing wrong with this Brechtian foregrounding of the means of production, except that the conceit is trite, clunky and decidedly un-Wagnerian. It is also not new. The Tannhaüsser that Lyric presented 2 years ago, had a monumental, golden proscenium arch that framed the drama and progressively collapsed as the action went by (one wonders if directors reach for these framing devices as a way of creating distance with Wagner, with his complicated legacy, or are a result of a lack of ideas). The one moment when the staging took off was for the famous ride of the Walkyres, when the war-maidens entered with bloody body bags attached to their horses (after all, their task is to carry the souls of slain heroes back to Walhalla) and a large net with hanging corpses covered the upstage wall. To show the underside of the palace of the gods as a grotesque morgue had an immediacy and freshness that I wished had been present across the rest of the production.  

 

Die Walküre runs at the Lyric Opera of Chicago through November 30th. Tickets are available online at www.lyricopera.org. Additional information can be found at www.theaterinchicago.com.

Héctor Álvarez is a writer, actor and director from Spain based in Chicago. He has studied non-Western theater traditions in China, Japan and Indonesia, and in 2008 received aWatson Fellowship to research community-based performance in Latin America. He has a BA in Theater from Macalester College and an MA in Modern English Literature form University College London. As an actor, he has trained and studied with Georges Bigot, Augusto Boal, Peter Schumann, Malte Lambrecht and Guillermo Heras and has performed in more than 20 productions. He is a member of Theatre Y’s ensemble since 2015.