May 08, 2003
David Alden's new production of Die Walküre premiered yesterday afternoon at the Bavarian State Opera. Musically, the performance was excellent, Zubin Mehta conducted well, as usual, and the singing was good. Tenor Peter Seiffert and soprano Waltraud Meier were outstanding as the Wälsungen, so the first act was stunning. Bass-baritone John Tomlinson was once again impressive as Wotan, his voice is powerful, warm, and beautiful. Significantly less affecting was soprano Gabriele Schnaut as Brünnhilde, she seemed to have difficulty singing while doing the choreography. Her voice, though sufficiently loud, had a little catch to it, and at times it sounded like it could shatter at any moment.
The production seemed to have a few major themes, these being: throwing objects or humans whenever possible, walls with strange magnetic properties that attract human bodies, inappropriate response to stimuli, domestic violence, and war. Act I starts us off in a room down stage, the floor is linoleum tile, the walls are flowered wallpaper, there is a hot pink refrigerator in the stage left corner, the rest of the furniture includes vinyl covered metal chairs and a kitchen table. Sieglinde, dressed as a house wife circa 1940, is sitting on a chair in the center. Siegmund enters from the left, wearing a black leather trench-coat. Sieglinde brings him water and mead from the lovely pink fridge, which of course, makes the audience titter. Hunding comes in and turns on the lights, including a kitschy illuminated depiction of a watery paradise. The act more or less precedes in this manner, the outside is revealed by the wall itself crumbling so that there is a human sized hole in it. The Wälsungen run off together, the wall gives way and swings open, Siegmund picks Sieglinde up and pushes her against the wall as they precede to maniacally dry hump each other. Lovely. This is followed by a 50 minute intermission as they set up for the next act.
Act II uses the same walls stripped of their wallpaper. Brünnhilde is dressed as Der Blaue Engel era Dietrich, and has a whip. She is standing at the top of the wall, as a bunch of soldier corpses move synchronically to her whip cracking. To her left is an oversized model of a camouflage-painted war plane. Eventually she comes down to earth where Wotan is, and this is when it starts to get actually bad. Brünnhilde does absurd movements with her top hat as a prop to the music. It is as if she has either Tourette's syndrome or Huntington's Disease, although the movements are timed to the music, they do not make any sense with them. Utter mockery. Her horse is a metal desk which is pushed about by a dark winged figure. Fricka is a well-dressed lady with a grey fox over one shoulder. She, of course, hurls it at the ground, along with her purse, as she tries to convince Wotan to let her punish Siegmund. There is wrestling and rolling on the ground between the two. When the scene finally changes Siegmund and Sieglinde gingerly move across something meant to look like a dilapidated several-story apartment complex, complete with an abandoned blue tiled bathroom and sorry-looking toilet. Sieglinde carefully collapses against the wall, again, and the scenery moves all about. Brünnhilde appears and heroes wearing gas masks come out bringing black leather armchairs which they sit in as they read newspapers. At some point they lean over the chairs and make suggestive hip thrusts for no apparent reason. Hunding, Wotan, and Fricka appear, Siegmund is killed, Brünnhilde defiantly strips herself of coat, hat, and gloves and sits in a chair facing her father. Hunding is killed, Wotan threatens Brünnhilde from his armchair across from her, the act ends, there is a significant amount of booing from the audience. I was shocked, since the audience is usually extremely excited about applauding. But when the singers came out, they were applauded as usual. This is followed by an hour long intermission as they set up for the final act. During the intermission, I gather that the audience did not mind first act's staging, but the second act was too much.
Act III has a huge fan suspended from above, which rotates throughout the rest of the performance. There are the walls again, some of the Walküren are up on top of the wall, some are below in an office area with many metal desks. They are dressed as soldiers, in gray wool with little gray hats. They have air traffic controller torches and at some point they use them to tell the audience, or perhaps Wagner, to fuck off. Then they take out white vinyl aprons with red crosses emblazoned on them and nurse hats, they change into red pumps. For the rest of the act they will dance about in a flippant and inappropriate manner. The war plane from Act II flies down to earth, and Wotan appears, filled with wrath. Brünnhilde is punished, and Wotan conjures up fire, which appears in the guise of a man in a fire proof suit, set afire. The dark winged figure rolls Brünnhilde away on a metal desk. The music ends and it is completely silent for a whole 30 seconds before a chorus of booing commences. The singers come out, and there is applause, the conductor comes out, the whole orchestra appears on stage, and the applause is thunderous. As soon as David Alden and his ilk come out, there is loud booing, countered with some polite applause and a group of 2 or 3 folks screaming "Bravo" over and over. The people on stage just continue bowing, flowers are brought out for the female singers.
The audience was more well-behaved than usual, there was less chatter. But, naturally, a cell-phone rang, though quite far from me.