On Die Walküre and the American Trajectory

06Jan08

[Note: Click here for our review and revised analysis from opening night.]

In musical terms, Friday night’s final dress rehearsal of Die Walküre (and with the understanding that it was just that, i.e., a rehearsal) at the Met seemed problematic; first Jim Morris (Wotan) canceled, which when announced sent the expected sigh of disappointment across the auditorium (not that his cover didn’t do an admirable job filling in, but some shoes are just too big to be comfortably worn at just a moment’s notice). Then the tempo was excruciatingly slow at times, as if the conductor — Lorin Maazel, back at the Met for the first time in 45 years — wanted to constrain his singers; this was unfortunate, because Adrianne Pieczonka (Sieglinde) and Clifton Forbis (Siegmund) resonated quite convincingly with the dramatic torment of the first act, and when allowed to really unleash their instruments (e.g., Siegmund’s “Wälse! Wälse!”) offered real power. Even in these trying conditions, Lisa Gasteen — who understandably marked many of her lines — brought a very moving sense of tragedy to the transformation of Brünnhilde from naive to rebellious and ultimately resigned soul who confronts her father’s eternal wrath. Of all the singers, Stephanie Blythe (Fricka) seemed the least perturbed; in her relatively brief appearance as Wotan’s hypercritical (but powerful and hypnotic) wife, she dominated the stage in every respect and gave us a glimpse of the huge potential of this cast for the actual run, which opens tomorrow night (and yes, we’ll be there to report).

It was while enraptured by Fricka, in fact, that the idea occurred to us that we might view Die Walküre as a metaphor for the American trajectory, particularly in the growing heat of the presidential campaign. For what is Fricka but the nagging (but powerful and hypnotic) voice of the fundamentalist right, exhorting her husband Wotan, the king of the gods (namely, the United States) to “do something” about the “immoral” love of Sieglinde and Siegmund (representing us queens and freaks who Huckabee & Company love so much)? And what does Brünnhilde represent if not hope and democracy (and rebellion), best embodied by Barack Obama and his winds of change?

Of course, that Brünnhilde ends up tied to a rock, stripped of her god-like power while her father grieves — and we should also note that Siegmund is dead, while Sieglinde has fled into the woods to hide — seems to imply a future of shattered dreams and unfulfilled promise under any election scenario. (Of course, much Wagnerian opera is built upon such pessimistic foundations.) Which isn’t to say we should be disconsolate; rather, we must remember the end of Götterdämmerung (two centuries operas later), in which Fricka, Wotan and the rest of the gods all go down in flames, making way for a new world to begin.

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