Sofia’s immensely powerful new Die Walküre: Brünnhilde and Wotan standout but Valkyries steal the show

BulgariaBulgaria Wagner, Die Walküre: Soloists, Dancers, Orchestra of Sofia Opera and Ballet / Constantin Trinks (conductor). Sofia Opera and Ballet Theatre, 9.7.2023. (GT)

Sofia Opera and Ballet Theatre’s Die Walküre Act II

In Wagner’s great tetralogy, it is Die Walküre that stands out as the one opera which can be staged outside the cycle. Few other stage works are as dramatically conceived as this opera with its intensely stirring orchestration, and poignant shifts between duty and honour, love and hate together with the cruelty of fate and loyalty. From the opening prelude through to the splendid finale we are involved in the conflicts between father and daughter, incest between sister and brother, and brutal deaths – few romantic operas can match the second part of Wagner’s Ring cycle for its dramatic power and conflicting forces.

The new Sofia Ring cycle benefits from the outstanding sets by the German designer Hans Kudlich: ‘When designing the Ring and its fantastic world we soon came into thoughts about forms and actions that do not follow rational paths and are located between imagination and reality. We did a lot of close analysis of surrealistic painters like Dali and Papazoff and took inspiration from Kandinsky and Man Ray.’

This new Walküre was eagerly anticipated, especially with a new Wotan in the person of the American baritone Thomas Hall. The standard of performance by the orchestra under Constantin Trinks was another source of anticipation. The opening of Die Walküre is one of the most gripping of all opera, and its intensity set the scene for what was to come. The curtain rose partially to reveal Siegmund running with Hunding and clansmen in swift pursuit. As the curtain rose fully, two triangular metal structures, including Hunding’s geometric dwelling contrasted strikingly with the three triskeles on the floor.

On the great ring to the right, Siegmund entered into Hunding’s home seeking sanctuary, with ‘Wes Herd dies auch sei, hier muss ich rasten’ Martin Iliev is revealed as an admirable tenor and actor, his eyes brightening when singing, ‘Einen Unseligen labtest du: Unheil wende der Wunsche von dir!’ while the Sieglinde of Tsvetana Bandalovska became better all night, while the dark bass tones of the Hunding from Angel Hristov faltered a little in an intricately developed scene, where he notices the similarity between his wife and Siegmund, ‘Wie gleicht er dem Weibe! Der gleissende Wurm’. Hunding realises now who Siegmund is by warning him that they will fight in the morning, ‘Ich weiss ein wildes Geschlecht’. In the superbly characterised scene in which Sieglinde and Siegmund fall for each other, Bandalovska’s heavenly ‘Du bist der Lenz’ was marvellously matched by Siegmund’s ‘O susseste Wonne!’

In Act II, the entry of the Wotan of Thomas Hall was bold and charismatic with his profligately vibrant baritone – he is deeply aware of the tragic/broken relationship between fate and his rule expressed in ‘Was verlangst du?’ The Fricka of Marian Zvetkova was first-rate in her scornfulness for Wotan’s hope for Siegmund to recover the ring, fiercely reproving her errant husband who yields by giving up on Siegmund, ‘Ich schütze ihn nicht’. Zvetkova demonstrated her ambiently rich mezzo-soprano and great characterisation in her ‘Deiner ew’gen Gattin heilige Ehre’ challenging Wotan’s oath to her.

A sign of what is to come appears stunningly with the entrance of Brünnhilde astride her Grane – a great red steed. Immediately, we are aware of the striking vocal gifts and personality of Gergana Rusekova, ‘Vater! Vater! Sage, was ist dir?’ In the ensuing great story by Wotan – we see the innovation by Kartaloff by the appearance of characters from the past – like ghosts appearing in one of the raised triskeles. This sequence of spectral visions illustrates marvellously Wotan’s narrative and shocks a despairing Brünnhilde who sings ‘So nimmst du von Siegmund den Sieg?’ as Wotan reneges on his promise to save his son by demanding Brünnhilde kills Siegmund.

In the swiftly enacted fight in the fifth scene, Wotan breaks Nothung allowing Hagen to kill Siegmund before setting off in pursuit of his disobedient daughter Brünnhilde with ‘Geh ‘hin. Knecht! Knie vor Fricka’ as he despatches Hunding.

Sofia Opera and Ballet Theatre’s Die Walküre Act III

The opening of Act III took one’s breath away when the curtain rose to reveal the spectacular entry of the eight Valkyries on their great red steeds turning and circling each other, coming to the front stage in turns, singing magnificently, ‘Hojotoho! Hojotoho! Heiaha!’ moving across the stage and this scene was so tremendously and excitingly choreographed that applause broke out spontaneously. The Valkyries were dressed in the colour code of scarlet red and black with trimmings of black and red, with triangular capped helmets all singing as if their life depended on it.

In the dramatic second scene, Wotan angrily addresses his daughters ‘Wo ist Brünnhilde? Wo die Verbrecherin?’ The Valkyries guard Sieglinde hiding her from the angry Wotan, and ends with them singing desperately, Halt’ ein, o Vater!’ Brünnhilde brings Sieglinde to the rock, formed from a raised ring, leading to the lengthy scene between Wotan and Brünnhilde. Rusekova’s Brünnhilde was magnificent revealing outstanding vocal nuancing and equalled by Hall’s supreme singing as Wotan from ‘Leb’ wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind!’ until the transition of the putting Brünnhilde to sleep, with ‘Der Augen leuchtendes Paar’ movingly sung and enhanced magnificently by a stunning visual presentation of bright red colours setting the scene on fire, assisted gloriously by tremendous playing from the orchestra.

Of the main characters, the Hall’s Wotan was vibrant in his darkly rich baritone, yet there was less ambience in the middle range. Throughout this intensely demanding role, Hall gave superb characterisation and depth to his portrayal due to his charismatic authority and emotion on stage. Rusekova’s Brünnhilde was magnificent in portraying a deeply torn woman abandoning duty to her father and saving a desperate woman. The Sieglinde of Tsvetana Bandalovska was poignant and sensitively characterised, and her singing and interpretation improved through the performance. However, for me, despite the outstanding singing and acting of all concerned – it was the red horses of the Valkyries who stole the show with a fantastic spectacular display – another great design by Kartaloff and his team.

The sets were outstanding with great coordination on stage and the choreography of the characters during the singing and monologues was another asset to this production. Once more, the conductor Constantin Trinks produced fine orchestral playing from his musicians bringing out all the subtle leitmotifs in Wagner’s score and again revealing this opera company as among the best in Europe. This Die Walküre fulfilled all the promise witnessed in the Das Rheingold of the previous evening, in all a triumph for Sofia Opera.

Gregor Tassie

Director – Plamen Kartaloff
Assistant Director – Julia Krasteva
Set designer – Hans Kudlich
Costumes – Hristiyana Mihaleva-Zorbalieva
Lighting designer – Andrej Hajdinjak
Multimedia – Ivan Liptchev
Choreographer – Riolina Topalova
Head of Production – Nela Stoyanova
Musical preparation – Richard Trimborn, Evan-Alexis Christ

Wotan – Thomas Hall
Siegmund – Martin Iliev
Sieglinde – Tsvetana Bandalovska
Hunding – Angel Hristov
Brünnhilde – Gergana Rusekova
Fricka – Mariana Zvetkova
Alberich – Plamen Dimitrov
Loge – Daniel Ostretsov
Helmwige – Ayla Dobreva
Gerhilde – Lyubov Metodieva
Ortlinde – Silvia Teneva
Waltraute – Ina Kalinova
Siegrune – Elena Mehandzhiyska
Rossweisse Tsveta Sarambelieva
Grimgerde – Alexandrina Stoyanova-Andreeva
Schwertleite – Vesela Yaneva

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