Let me begin by saying, if you know Wagner at all, youre familiar with Die Wakure.
Even the Bugs Bunny school of opera has this one down. (And, admittedly, I hummed Kill the Wabbit absentmindedly while I watched the standout performance and spectacular staging. Some things are just embedded in your psyche.)
I mean, if the opera was good enough to show before the suite was finished in spite of the composers express orders (were talking to you King Ludwig II of Bavaria), you know its a jewel. You also know it was particularly good if Wagners friends went to see it, despite his P.O.ed-ness, and couldnt resist coming to tell him how much they loved it.
Poor Wagner, it must have been a hard life.
Anyway, the music is spectacular, the plot is engaging, and this production by the Met is completely engrossing.
But I still have a problem with it.
Call me petty, but Ive never been able to get over the horror at the idea of Olympian (or, in this case, Asgardian) incest. Now, as a favorite Lit professor once remarked, the Greek gods were basically all powerful orangutans running around armed with Uzis, and though theyre perhaps a tad more sophisticated I probably shouldnt expect more of the Norse heavenly beings. But that doesnt change the fact that I just cant quite make it jive in my mind.
I guess its the nature of (past) royal families. But theres a reason to be freaked out, right? Well, freaked out might be a tad harsh. Deeply disturbed seems fair. I mean, the Hapsburg lip was a sign that too much family closeness is a bad thing. Yes?
But, enough fixating. Wagner didnt invent the myths he just compiled them, did a touch of exposition and set them to a profoundly majestic score! And that, I think youll agree, we can all enjoy.
And, as promised, your uncouth spoilers for the day! Read on, or join us tonight at 8 p.m. for the more sophisticated version.
Die Walkure opens as an exhausted mortal, Siegmund, busts into a strange house and crashes by the hearth. Not too long after, the hot lady of the house finds him - and sparks fly. Too bad shes hitched. Hubby Hunding bursts in and wants to know exactly whos in his house.
Turns out Siegmunds having a bad time of it. He even gives his name as Woeful, and goes on to tell about his hard and disaster-riddled life.
The school of hard knocks isnt over for old Woeful, though. His latest disaster involved fleeing enemies … who just happen to be Hundings kin. Hunding decides that, to settle all of that, theyll just have to fight to the death in the morning.
Fortunately for poor Siegmund, he can call on dear old birth dad, who just happens to be Wotan, King of the Gods, in human disguise. Apparently, Daddy-o promised Sigmund a sword at some point in the past. They
Not too much later, the dame reappears after she drugged hubby dear with a sleeping potion. Guess what? Things arent all that happy at home, and during her forced wedding, a one-eyed stranger (actually good ole Wotan) thrust a sword into a tree that no ones been able to yank out since.
Seeing as how Sieglinde the lovely lady of the house was so sweet to drug her hubby and is obviously unhappy, Siegmund an all-around good guy cant happy but fall for her. Theres affection and a promise to whoop up on old hubby and set her free from her unhappiness.
Moonlight floods the scene. Sieglinde and Siegmund sing about love, spring and general warm fuzzies.
At this point, Sieglinde asks lover boy more about his dad and finds out he gave a false name earlier. Daddys real name is Walse, who just happens to be Sieglindes dad, too. And suddenly, she realizes Siegmund is her twin brother! But does that cool the flames? Of course not! This is mythology were talking about!
Love! Danger! Intrigue! Romance! Incest!
Dramatically, Siegmund frees the sword from the tree, claims his twin as his bride and rejoices over the union of the Walsungs (half-god siblings). Then, we move on to the second act. And, really, how are you going to top that?
Well, we begin with a change of scenery and go back to the realm of the gods.
High, high in the mountains, Daddy Wotan tells his full-on goddess daughter Brunnhilde to go save little half-brother in his fight with Hunding. (Brunnhilde is a Valkyrie something of a warrior princess who decides who lives and dies on the battle field.) Brunnhilde is more than happy to help and sets out to do just that.
Unfortunately for Wotan, he just cant quite get himself out of hot water with his wife and goddess of marriage Fricka. While Fricka isnt terribly concerned about a sibling union, she does insist that Wotan has to defend Hubby Hundings marriage rights against Siegmund.
The gods can be ridiculous, but they should have standards, right?
Apparently, Fricka does. She doesnt even care about his Kingnesss argument that Siegmund could save the gods by winning back the all-powerful ring from the dragon, Fafner.
But at this point, Wotan realizes that its all a zero-sum game. He will lose his power if he doesnt enforce the law and hell lose power if theres no one to secure the ring. In the end, he does what good ol Fricka demands.
About this time, Brunnhilde comes home, and dad tells her hes changed his mind, and that shes going to have to fight on Hundings side in the morning.
Meanwhile, in the mortal world, Sigmund is still comforting his worried sister-bride, and watches over her while she falls asleep (Team Edward, anyone?). Along that time, Brunnhilde comes to him in a vision, telling him hell dies soon and be taken to the warriors paradise, Valhalla.
Siegmunds not having it, though. He spouts back that hes not leaving Sieglinde and that hell kill them both if Brunnhilde doesnt back up his sword in the fight w/ Hunding.
Brunnhilde is touched by baby brothers steadfastness, and in a moment of rebellion decides to help Seigmund instead.
So off Siegmund goes to fight Hunding, Brunnhilde at his side, but just when Siegmund is about to win, Wotan shows up and hes a stickler for the rules. Just as Siegmund is about to win, Wotan shatters it and Hunding kills Siegmund. But Brunnhilde isnt done yet, she sweeps Sieglinde and the broken weapon off in the aftermath. An understandably disappointed Wotan decides he doesnt want Hunding around either, and kills him of with a wave of the hand before leaving to punish Brunnhilde.
And so ends Act II. We move on to Act III! (Hang in there, its worth it.)
Brunnhildes eight warrior princess sisters have all gathered on their mountaintop, doing their job and taking slain heroes to Valhalla. Understandably, theyre a bit surprised to see Brunnhilde bring a women to their peak. Once they find out shes hiding Sieglinde and fleeing an angry dad, the sisters are a bit reluctant to hide her.
At the same time, Sieglindes a bit numb despairing over brother-husbands death. But, Brunnhilde tells her she pregnant with Siegmunds child, and she perks up a bit. Rather than waiting around an moaning any more, Sieglinde makes off with the sword pieces, thanks Brunnhilde and heads off to the forest just in time.
Once Wotan shows up, Burnnhildes basically screwed. He sentences her to become mortal and shuts the other warrior princesses up by promising to do the same for them if they dont pipe down. To avoid further controversy, they head out.
Left alone with daddy dearest, Brunnhilde defends herself, saying that she was just doing what Wotan REALLY wanted to do. But Wotans not buying her pitch. The warrior princess must become mortal and lie in sleep as a prize for any man who finds her. Brunnhilde does succeed on one point, though. She asks that, while shes knocked out, dad sets up a wall of fire only the bravest hero can penetrate to find her. With some kind of godly foreknowledge, they both know the hero will be Sieglindes child.
Moving along, sad and supposedly just king Wotan kisses Bunnhildes eyes with sleep and mortality and calls the fire god to encircle her sleeping perch with flames. As he heads out, Wotan sets a spell that prevents anyone who fears his spear from braving the flames.
And, thus, ends Die Walkure. Ta da! Sufficiently interested? See a much more elegant presentation tonight at 8 p.m.