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Die Walküre is the point at which most Ring cycles get serious. Graham Vick’s, in Lisbon, does not. There is no socio-political context, and work’s central conflicts unfold with flippant levity. The tree in Hunding’s hut is a piece of furniture, with a hole next to the sword for the schnapps. Wotan and Fricka have a billiard table, and time for a game between phrases. The Valkyries themselves are blood-sucking vampires in fishnet stockings, with dozens of strapping dead heroes to play with. The rejects are zipped into green body-bags, with one left over for Brünnhilde at the end.
Vick needs big props. For Das Rheingold last May, he turned the Lisbon theatre back to front, with part of the audience on the stage and all the action on a vast platform built over the stalls (sets: Timothy O’Brien). For Die Walküre, the bold configuration stays. It has pros and cons. We are brought much closer to the protagonists than a conventional stage would allow, with chances for visceral interaction as characters pop out from the backs of boxes.
But only part of the orchestra is covered by Vick’s false floor, and the string section sounds thin without the acoustic help of a traditional pit. Wagner-in-the-round is a problematic proposition, since part of the audience will always see the singers from behind. And few singers sound best from the rear.
Then there is the problem of maintaining dramatic tension between two or three singers within such a vast space. Hence the props. Too often, Vick’s characters fidget where they ought to act. We feel neither the full force of Wotan’s existential dilemma nor the erotic tension between Siegmund and Sieglinde.
Though black Ronald Samm and white Anna-Katharina Behnke make highly implausible twins, both sing well. Samm has the stamina and easy power his role requires, Behnke a fraught and febrile intensity. Judit Németh cuts a fine figure as Fricka, leaving Mikhail Kit’s hoarse, insecure Wotan miles behind. But it’s Susan Bullock’s Brünnhilde who steals the show, with singing that has psychological depth as well as polish and strength.
Marko Letonja keeps his musical forces mostly together and never loses momentum. This is not revelatory Wagner, but it does entertain.
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