The second part of Patrice Chreau's epoch-making Bayreuth Ring is a radical re-imagining of Die Walkre, unprecedented in its psychological penetration. "This Wagnerian drama," says Chreau, "which is at once classical theatre and domestic comedy, enables us to interpret the myths in terms that are both anecdotal and sublime...With Wagner one is dealing with a drama turned virtually white-hot by the music." "Nothing ever seen before on television has given better insight into Wagner's genius" (The New York Times).
Wagner's ideas of "racial purity" reach a logical conclusion in Act I of Die Walküre,
powerfully performed in this Bayreuth production. Siegfried, the tragic hero of the cycle, is begotten in an adulterous, incestuous mating of Siegmund (Peter Hoffmann) and Sieglinde (Jeanne Altmeyer), a twin brother and sister. No miscegenation here.
Siegfried will not be seen until the next opera in the cycle. For now, the Valkyries (after their famous, musically spectacular ride) are asked to protect Sieglinde, his pregnant mother-to-be, until he can be born. His father is killed in a fight with Hunding, Sieglinde's brutish husband, with Wotan intervening against his will to help the wronged spouse. Wotan has been forced by his wife Fricka, who is the goddess of marriage, elegantly played by Hanna Schwartz. Her victory is a striking display of Wotan's diminishing powers. Brunnhilde, Wotan's daughter and leader of the Valkyries (Gwyneth Jones), disobeys a paternal prohibition, rescues Sieglinde and hides her in safety to wait out her pregnancy. For this, she is punished by losing her divine status and being left asleep for years, surrounded by a circle of magic fire, until a hero (Siegfried, who has not yet been born) will come to rescue her.
This episode is extremely well-sung, with particularly notable work by Hoffmann, Altmeyer, Schwartz, Jones and Donald McIntyre as Wotan, while conductor Pierre Boulez and director Patrice Chéreau work smoothly together to define the opera's overall form and continuity. --Joe McLellan