The Cocooned Cadaver: Kriegenburg’s Walküre

GermanyGermany R. Wagner, Die Walküre: Soloists, Kent Nagano (conductor), Bavarian State Orchestra, National Theater, Munich, 11.7.2012 (JFL)
Production: Bayerische Staatsoper

Direction: Andreas Kriegenburg
Sets: Harald B. Thor
Costumes: Andrea Schraad
Lighting: Stefan Bolliger


Brünnhilde: Iréne Theorin
Sieglinde: Anja Kampe
Siegmund: Klaus Florian Vogt
Wotan: Thomas J. Mayer
Fricka: Sophie Koch
Hunding: Ain Anger
Helmwige: Barbara Morihien
Gerhilde: Danielle Halbwachs
Ortlinde: Golda Schultz
Waltraute: Heike Grötzinger
Grimgerde: Okka von der Damerau
Siegrune: Roswitha C. Müller
Rossweisse: Alexandra Petersamer
Schwerleite: Anaïk Morel

Picture courtesy Bavarian State Opera, © Wilfried Hösl
Anja Kampe (Sieglinde), Klaus Florian Vogt (Siegmund)
The Munich Ring Cycle on S&H:

Das Rheingold
Jens F Laurson (9.2.2012)
JM Irurzun(10.7.2012)

Die Walküre
Jens F Laurson (11.7.2012)
JM Irurzun(11.7.2012)

Jens F Laurson (3.6.2012)
JM Irurzun (13.7.2012)

Jens F Laurson (Open Air, 15.7.2012)
JM Irurzun (15.7.2012)

Klaus Florian Vogt as Siegmund, Iréne Theorin as Brünnhilde, and Anja Kampe as Sieglinde in a Walküre at the Bavarian State Opera were a proposition that the very international Munich Opera Festival audience wasn’t going to resist as they filled the National Opera House with excited expectations. Depending on whether they had seen the promising Rheingold or the comic-charming Siegfried, their expectations may have been disappointed. Andreas Kriegenburg’s Walküre seems to be from a different Ring Cycle altogether, and where there are visual and directorial cues that closely link the first and third installment of the Ring, the famous second chapter had little to nothing to offer by way of continuity.

It starts with a bewilderingly clumsy slow-motion fight sequence of Siegmund vs. a posse of Hunding-henchmen ninjas during the overture—which couldn’t, fortunately, distract from the finest musical moment of the night: Nagano’s electric, raw prelude that hovered at various dynamic level like a dragonfly over a summer’s mid-day pond. For all their technical excellence, conductor and orchestra would never again reach that buzzing thrill during this performance, nor the seamless fluidity of their Rheingold. Instead Nagano slowed matters ever further down, until tension and attention floundered and the performance repeatedly descended into boredom.

Where populating Siegfried’s act 1 with busy extras, provided ingenious entertainment (to those who didn’t think frown at the idea of having a bit of childlike fun with Wagner), the WWI nurses, prolifically mummifying fallen warriors in the background to turn them into cocooned cadavers, never became an organic part of the intimate scene between the Wolfings. Pretty conventionalism dominated the second act amid a few lovely vistas making use of elevated floors. In sharp contrast to the Rheingold and Siegfried, there was little abstraction or use of bodies besides the Penguin ballet of butlers in livery who serve smash-plastic tumblers that are broken two-a-minute.

available at AmazonR.Wagner, Die Walküre,
D.Barenboim / Bayreuth O & Ch.
Elming, Secunde, Tomlinson, Evans, Hölle, Finnie et al.
Warner DVD

The third act opens with a several-minute long Riverdance™ episode of the Walkyres’ horses who stomp about more or less rhythmically: A pointless, harmless, successful, tedious attempt to provoke the audience who, sure enough, allow themselves to be goaded into public displays of derision, mockery, and half-hearted support. It’s the kind of thing that might make the Intendant smile, except that Nikolaus Bachler savvily skipped the bit and didn’t return to his box until the actual Ride of the Walkyres began.

Klaus Florian Vogt surprised with unusually unsubtle acting: a repeated, grossly fake double handed cupping of his beaker, a tired stock gesture for ever-so-impetuous-drinking, was just one of many lazy elements where the theater-trained stage-direction of Kriegenburg seemed inexplicably absent. Empty phrases, superficially matched to the music, replaced palpable psychological motivation. And while there is much to be admired in Vogt’s voice—I love his introverted Lohengrin, Erik, and Stolzing—as Siegmund, at least that night, he vacillated between gorgeous lyric (especially touching in the intimate 2nd act scene), and unbecomingly whiney.

Whenever I encounter Sieglinde, it is Anja Kampe (previously heard in that role in 2004, 2006, and 2007) who is doing the singing. There could be worse things: She fills out that role increasingly, in a manner of speaking; ideal in many ways except that she was woefully under-employed as an actress. Iréne Theorin’s Brünnhilde , meanwhile, sounded much like the orchestra: technically above reproach, but neither involving nor particularly touching: A bit like an improved and more sympathetic version of Linda Watson. That was most evident in the final scene—lit by a witty but puny magic fire—that had only the music to work with, with little support form direction or musicians to make something emotional out of it yet.

Sophie Koch was marvelous as Fricka, a role that a good singer/actor can turned from mere cut-out cliché of kill-joy harpy into a strong, essential, sympathetic character who is in fact the moral backbone of the Ring-world. Koch brings beauty, warmth, class, and style to her Ficka, and was in considerably better form than during the performance of the Rheingold in February.

While Thomas J. Mayer’s Wotan/Wanderer sounded curiously underpowered in Siegfried, he fitted more naturally into this cast (especially given Vogt’s Siegmund), but Johan Reuter lyrical-authoritative Wotan from Das Rheingold was still missed. Ain Anger’s Hunding was nasal and soundly booming, occasionally pitch-approximating, dramatically very pleasing, and did things to a watermelon that were more creative even than Gallagher ever managed. Altogether a curious let-down amid the very specific expectations that musical and dramatic direction of the first (and third) installment had raised.

Jens F. Laurson

More pictures of the production can be found here.

Picture courtesy Bavarian State Opera, © Wilfried Hösl
Thomas J. Mayer (Wotan), Katarina Dalayman (Brünnhilde of the first performance)