It’s a pity that I had a conflict and wasn’t able to attend the opening night performance of Canadian Opera Company’s Die Walküre, because now there are only two more opportunities for my readers to catch this fantastic production before it’s gone for the season.
Although Die Walküre is a story of gods and Valkyries and filled with magic, the real magic lies in the all-too human emotions of the characters. Act I ends with the reunited twins Siegmund and Sieglinde (half gods, half mortals), falling in love and pledging themselves to one another. Even with this most taboo subject, the audience is drawn in by the love shared between the two. We watch and listen as Brünnhilde, the strongest of the Valkyries goes from being proud warrior, to shunned, scared, mortal child, and as Wotan, a god, works through anger, frustration, sadness and vulnerability.
American powerhouse soprano Christine Goerke makes her mark on the COC stage as Brünnhilde, and the buoyancy of her voice and the acting that she delivers in her performance is one that will be remembered for years to come. One
would never know this was Goerke’s first time singing the role in an operatic setting as she reaches zenith heights, with rich vocal weight and texture, in this iconic role for sopranos. The singer is also convincing as an actress, her subtle changes in body language and facial expression matches the character’s feelings superbly.
Soprano Heidi Melton sings her legato phrases with elegance, her full voice and bright timber conveys a beautifully tortured Sieglinde. The performance I attended had Clifton Forbis’ understudy, tenor Issachah Savage sing the role of Siegmund, and extra kudos must be given to this fine young singer. In 2014 he was the winner of the Seattle International Wagner Competition, earning a trifecta of awards, including the main, audience favourite and orchestra favourite prizes. The timber of his voice was sufficiently large and dark which matched the state of his character with ease. The COC audience was taken in by his performance as Siegmund, and his reaction to the crowd’s admiration during curtain call was heart-warming.
Truthfully, all of the players in this production are at the top of their game. Danish bass-baritone Johan Reuter is a convincingly tortured Wotan, while mezzo-soprano Janina Baechle as his pestering wife, the goddess Fricka, delivers well in Act II. Russian bass singer Dimitry Ivashchenko is a towering menace in stature, while the thickness and colour of his voice as Hunding was sufficiently chilling.
One of the many highlights of this production is the entrance of the Valkyries at the top of Act III, the vocals and visuals of the eight ladies presence on stage is electrifying. At the sound of this iconic piece of music (Ride of the Valkyries has been used for many things, including the theme song for Christopher Reeve’s Superman franchise), there is something of an electric charge that works its way through the massive opera house.
Johannes Debus handles Wagner’s score with aplomb, and conducts his vision of the music to his flawless orchestra, without missing a note. The orchestral fabric is woven to perfection in a production where their performance can make or break the opera, as Walküre is so orchestra heavy. The density and depth of sound produced by these musicians is breathtaking, and tantamount to the success of the show.
Wagner’s operas are notoriously long, with much to ingest, and at four hours and forty-five minutes, this production might prove difficult for even the most seasoned opera-goer. Not so, under Atom Egoyan’s fine direction, with every element fully expressing the beauty and excellence of this Die Walküre. Egoyan scores another hit for the COC.
There are two more performances of Die Walküre at the Four Season’s Centre on February 19 and 22. For tickets please visit: www.coc.ca