Langridge’s gripping and moving Die Walküre in Gothenburg

09/12/2019

SwedenSweden Wagner, Die Walküre: Soloists of Gothenburg Opera, dancers, Gothenburg Opera Orchestra / Evan Rogister (conductor), Gothenburg, 1.12.2019. (NS)

Siegmund (Brenden Gunnell, left) and Sieglinde (Elisabet Strid) (c) Lennart Sjöberg

Production:
Director – Stephen Langridge
Set and costume design – Alison Chitty
Set and costume design assistant – Fabrice Serafino
Lighting design – Paul Pyant
Movement instructor – Annika Lindqvist

Cast:
Siegmund – Brenden Gunnell
Hunding – Mats Almgren
Wotan – Anders Lorentzson
Sieglinde – Elisabet Strid
Brünnhilde – AnnLouice Lögdlund
Fricka – Katarina Karnéus
Gerhilde – Carolina Sandgren
Ortlinde – Gabriella Locatelli
Waltraute – Julia Sporsén
Schwertleite (and Erda as a silent role) – Hege Høisæter
Helmwige – Åsa Thyllman
Siegrune – Matilda Paulsson
Grimgerde – Natallia Salavei
Rossweise – Ann-Kristin Jones

The Seven Narrators (silent roles):
The Golden Child – Sara Suneson
The Mother – Julie Dariosecq
Sara Wikström, Jérôme Delbey, Jonathan Böiers, David Lagerqvist, Jonatan Ney
Siegmund as child – Gustaf Sporsén
Sieglinde as child – Agnes Murby

The continuation of Stephen Langridge’s Gothenburg Ring cycle has been eagerly awaited. Though the same scenic ‘kit’ is used for all four operas, the visual presentation is adapted for each episode of the drama. At a seminar before the premiere, Langridge and Alison Chitty revealed more of their plan for the cycle. While Das Rheingold was set in a timeless ‘once upon a time’, Die Walküre is set ‘yesterday’ (i.e. the previous generation), with Siegfried set ‘today’ and Götterdämmerung ‘tomorrow’ – when the next generation will (hopefully) repair the crimes against nature perpetrated by previous generations. Though there are still some visual links to Das Rheingold, in Die Walküre the Ring and the unbalancing of nature caused by Wotan and Alberich recede into the background, and relationships take centre stage.

Chitty and Fabrice Serafino’s costumes and stage props have a suggestion of Seventies style, in particular in Hunding’s house and Sieglinde’s sensible house clothes. Paul Pyant’s lighting design again excels in creating different moods. The turntable and the moving rear wall were skilfully used to move props and allow the singers to move through the set while naturally facing the audience as much as possible.

Brenden Gunnell’s bearded Viking Siegmund was visually almost unrecognisable compared with his Loge in Das Rheingold. What had not changed since last year was his voice, a lyrical and unforced tenor which was perfectly suited to the role. ‘Winterstürme’ was sung caressingly and while his anguished ‘Wälse!’ perhaps lacked the last few decibels, his breath control lacked nothing and his voice remained focussed in all the dynamic climaxes. Both his acting and his vocal expression were truly moving, both in Act I with its journey from sorrow to ecstasy, and in Act II with Siegmund’s confrontation with his mortality.

Elisabet Strid was a fantastic Sieglinde. Not only did she have a terrific ping but also clarity in the lower register, resulting in spine-tingling storytelling as she told Siegmund the story of her father and the sword, and her dream of vengeance. She and Siegmund were beautifully matched, with Strid responding to a sublime ‘Winterstürme’ with a ‘Du bist der Lenz’ of beautifully judged expression.

Mats Almgren’s Hunding was effectively menacing, his subtle acting giving emphasis to the moments when the glove slipped off his iron fist. His resonant bass vividly described the character’s cruelty, though his diction was not always the clearest. Katarina Karnéus had a tour de force as Fricka, singing with clarity and anger, remorselessly destroying each of Wotan’s arguments in favour of sparing Siegmund. After dominating that part of Act II she kissed the top of Wotan’s head, a wonderfully backhanded parting touch.

Anders Lorentzson’s Wotan carried his demanding role with great stage presence and an expressive voice, particularly moving when unburdening himself to Brünnhilde in Act II and in his mixture of anger and anguish at her disobedience and punishment. His wordless devastation after taking away Brünnhilde’s immortality (symbolised by the gloves that the gods wear in this Ring cycle) was a powerful image and emblematic of Wotan’s enslavement to the laws with which he sought to rule the world.

I had high expectations of AnnLouice Lögdlund as Brünnhilde, having heard her before in Wermland Opera’s impressive Ring cycle and in Die Walküre at the Royal Opera in Stockholm. She met all of them: her voice combined radiance with warmth and her acting showed a deep understanding of her character. Her vocal technique was impressive, particularly her ability to start a phrase at pianissimo and the gradually crescendo to forte without breaking the phrase or changing vocal colour. She was expressive and gripping most of all in the final part of Act III when she was alone with Wotan, a scene where Anders Lorentzson also shone although his voice showed small signs of tiredness by that point (hardly surprising after his demanding part).

The ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ was effectively staged with plenty of well-choreographed movement, unusually with the dancers in the cast in the role of horses – a nice change from what usually ends up being a ‘Stand of the Valkyries’ in many productions. The Valkyries were lavishly cast with several leading soloists among them and sang gloriously.

Evan Rogister carefully balanced the orchestra with the singers, bringing out the lyricism in the music and a chamber music sound in the quiet passages. This made the occasional blazes of orchestral glory (such as the end of Act I and the opening of Act II) all the more effective by contrast. At the premiere I felt the conducting was a little slow in some parts of Act II and III, but this was no longer the case when I attended another performance on 7 December. The ‘Magic Fire Music’ was played with beautiful orchestral colour, as well as gorgeous lighting with vivid red, blue and green hues. I am already looking forward to Siegfried!

Niklas Smith

Playing until 19 January 2020, for more information and to listen to a podcast of the panel discussion referred to in the first paragraph as a podcast in English click here.

Swedish Radio recorded the premiere for broadcast on 21 December 2019, which can be listened to on the Swedish Radio website (click here) and app (SR Play) up to 30 days after the broadcast.

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