Reflections on Melbourne Opera's 'Die Walküre', February 2022


'Die Walküre'

By Esteban Insausti

It has taken a few days to process the two performances of Die Walküre (Friday and Sunday) as well as the announcement of full cycles in 2023 in the wonderful Ulumbarra Theatre in Bendigo. Bendigo! A true Festival venue soon to become the Bayreuth of the South. We owe nothing short of unequivocal admiration and deep gratitude to Melbourne Opera for embarking on a Ring production during the Covid pandemic. This is the kind of vision and leadership lacking in the Arts (and the nation) at the moment. Bold. Inspiring. Crazy brave but designed to attract devotees that will stick.

Das Rheingold in 2021 was an act of will and defiance in the face of the damage the pandemic was reaping on the Arts. This year’s Die Walküre was both a consolidation of the great work started in the Vorabend and a confirmation of what a potentially solid (and exciting) Ring this will be. Economic necessity, a combination of experience and youth led by the veteran Maestro Anthony Negus (is there a more knowledgeable Wagnerian in any pit around the world?) and crystal clear narrative from Suzanne Chaundy and her creative team, delivers all the bang one wants in Wagner. It looks like Wagner. It sounds like Wagner. There is no skimping here.

The performances themselves improved from Friday to Sunday. The Sunday Act 3 was incredible and it would be a long time before you hear something as good (well hopefully in 2023). The cast was uniformly solid. This production has the best gang of Valkyries I’ve seen and heard anywhere. Led by the legendary Rosamund Illing. But there were two exceptional turns: Lee Abrahamsen as Sieglinde and Warwick Fyfe as Wotan. Both turned it up several notches in Act 3 with singing of a very high quality and acting to match.

Warwick, an inveterate scene stealer at the best of times, just was Wotan. Adding to an unforgettable Alberich in an undistinguished production by Neil Armfield in 2013 and 2016, Warwick has to be Australia’s premier Wagnerian voice at the moment (among a number that are already making waves overseas). So to any directors, conductors and producers looking for a Wotan, look him up. He convincingly evoked the god hemmed in by his own machinations and ultimately emotionally broken by the loss of two of his favourite children. The defiant farewell salute to Brünnhilde with hunched shoulders was heartbreaking. I won’t dwell on his vocal power, control, nuance and intelligence. He KNOWS and UNDERSTANDS the text. Just as Maestro Negus conveys his conception of the enormous musical structure to, what is for all intents and purposes, a scratch orchestra and inspires them to produce committed and exciting sounds. My only quibble was that the orchestra on Friday sounded muffled in the dry acoustics of Her Majesty’s Theatre. More than half them were under the stage in an expanded pit to fit them all in. But on Sunday the playing was of such ferocity that it didn’t matter. All hail this production!

From the Wagner Quarterly, March 2022