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In Review > North America

Die Walküre

Lyric Opera of Chicago

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The Ride of the Valkyries in David Pountney's production of Die Walküre for Lyric Opera of Chicago
Photo by Cory Weaver
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Christine Goerke, Brandon Jovanovich and Elisabet Strid as Brünnhilde, Siegmund and Sieglinde in Die Walküre
Photo by Cory Weaver

LYRIC OPERA OF CHICAGO made a splendid second entry into Wagner’s Ring on November 1 with a gripping, daringly sexy account of Die Walküre. The production continues Lyric’s cycle from stage director David Pountney, which is set for completion in 2019, with three full cycles planned for spring of 2020.

Christine Goerke’s passionate Brünnhilde was sung with formidable power and nuance and graced with shimmering tone throughout. By the final scene, after hours of strenuous vocalizing, the soprano was still singing entirely within her means, floating passages with astonishingly fresh, even girlish tone. Bass-baritone Eric Owens delivered a majestic Wotan, distinguished by a warm, enveloping timbre that remained weighty and rock-solid from his protracted Act II narration through his heartbreaking Abschied

As Siegmund, Brandon Jovanovich delivered some of the finest singing of his Lyric career. The climaxes were potently hurled forth with no evidence of strain, and his perceptive acting was most telling. His Sieglinde, Swedish soprano Elisabet Strid, proved herself a fervent singing actress with a commanding jugendlich dramatic soprano to match. The erotic frisson between the two was so intense that one often felt like a voyeur. Ain Anger brought a dark, cavernous bass to his menacing Hunding, and it was interesting to experience this role with a young, sexually threatening interpreter, rather than the frequently encountered hulk. Tanja Ariane Baumgartner’s sumptuous vocalizing ensured that Fricka’s indignant demands emerged as the crux of the narrative, as is too rarely the case.

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Eric Owens's Wotan and Tanja Ariane Baumgartner's Fricka
Photo by Cory Weaver

Pountney’s staging, with settings by the late Johan Engels (realized by Robert Innes Hopkins) that are washed in Fabrice Kebour’s lighting, built intelligently on the foundation laid by last season’s Rheingold. The wooden, industrial-era scaffolding was back, as were the nimble stagehands who visibly manipulated the stage machinery. The cantilevered dollies were back too, here facilitating flights of Valkyries upon silvery steeds. Costumier Marie-Jeanne Lecca forsook the Rheingold gods’ Rococo fairy-tale wardrobe for the slinky glamour of old Hollywood. Valhalla was a nouveau riche-style foyer that descended from above, while Hunding’s abode was a virtually bare stage bisected diagonally with an unmistakably phallic ash tree. Sieglinde was kept tethered to it with a chain; thus Hunding’s chilling command upon releasing her that she go prepare his drink and wait for him in bed was palpably disturbing. The magic fire was a theatrical coup, as Loge was revealed twirling acrobatically in a projected furnace of flame. 

Certain elements were dubious. Brünnhilde’s fear of possession by an unworthy man was punctuated with a gang of creepy lowlifes who clustered about to leer at her, an unnecessary invention. The unflinching depiction of the Valkyries’ bloody bounty was also questionable, as a sea of mutilated corpses and seeping body bags rather suggested that their ride took place at the Six Flags Fright Fest. The singing overrode objection, however, as the present production’s Valkyries were easily the most thrilling assemblage heard at Lyric in more than two decades. 

Conductor Andrew Davis and his players did a magnificent job in the pit. A raucous ovation heard when the orchestra stood before Act III was one of the loudest in memory. For those who love Wagner, this production was essential. For those who don’t, Lyric’s new Die Walküre just might change their minds.  —Mark Thomas Ketterson 

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