Wednesday, February 11, 2015


A scene from the Canadian Opera Company production of Die Walküre, 2015. Photo: Michael Cooper

James Karas

Infidelity, incest, immorality, divine transgression and divine retribution, lust for flesh and power, and the bodies of a few heroes strewn around the stage is all in a day’s work for Wagner. Or 4 hours and 45 minutes, to be more precise, which is how long the current production of Die Walkűre by the Canadian Opera Company takes to give us all those events.

Atom Egoyan’s production has some brilliant touches and some takes that leave you scratching your head.

The set by Michael Levine consists of a mass of steel girders and lights at the top and on the sides of the stage that look like a scene under a bridge. A corner of a stucco building is visible at the back but I could not make out what it was supposed to represent. Is it Valhalla as viewed from under the bridge that was constructed for the gods to enter their grand abode in Das Rheingold? In any event, with some variations, the set serves for the whole opera from Hunding’s hut to the top of the rock where Wotan puts Brűnhilde to sleep and surrounds her by fire. The set is the head scratcher. Asie from that, Egoyan's production is simply superb.

American tenor Clifton Forbes sang the role of Siegmund even though he was indisposed. He struggled through the performance and deserves credit for that but further comment is uncalled for.

American soprano Christine Goerke has a big, clarion voice and sang a superb Brűnhilde. She dominated the scenes that she was in and was especially effective with the Valkyries. When Brűnhilde approaches Siegmund to inform him of Wotan’s decision that he must die, she raises a white sheet to her body and flames cover her torso. It is marvelous touch by Egoyan that foreshadows Brűnhilde’s fate. 
Clifton Forbis as Siegmund, Dimitry Ivashchenko as Hunding and Heidi Melton as Sieglinde. Photo: Michael Cooper

Danish baritone Johan Reuter did not make the ideal Wotan. His voice is marvelous in the lower register but it tended to show strain in the upper notes. Part of the problem is that his voice is simply not big enough to go over the orchestra when it is playing at full force. Wotan needs to have an over-powering voice befitting a god. Reuter did not manage those heights all the time.

Russian bass Dimitry Ivashchenko made a superb Hunding. He was vocally strong and resonant and physically threatening. He was well-matched with American soprano Heidi Melton as Sieglinde. She has a big, lovely voice and she showed fear, tenderness and courage as the wife of the boor Hunding and the loving sister/wife of Siegmund.
At the end of the opera, Wotan punishes Brűnhilde for her defiance of his orders to allow Hunding to kill Siegmund by placing her atop of a rock surrounded by flames. She will sleep there until a hero rescues her. Wotan’s Farwell to Brűnhilde is one of those great scenes in opera that one could wait not four but forty hours to see it. In this production there is no rock and Brűnhilde simply lies on the ground. But Wagner’s grand music played brilliantly by the COC Orchestra conducted by Johannes Debus provides a brilliant moment. As the scene winds up, the Valkyries descend of the stage carrying flaming torches. They surround Brűnhilde as if paying homage to the great Valkyrie and place the troches around her body. Brűnhilde is indeed protected from cowards until a great hero comes to rescue her.

See this exceptional production and wait until next year for the sequel.    

Die Walküre by Richard Wagner opened on January 31 and will be performed a total of seven times until February 22, 2015 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel: 416-363-6671.

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