Die Walküre

Maison symphonique de Montréal
Ticket Prices
$42* to $129*
Concert dates
Wednesday, May 27, 2015 - 8:00 PM Done
Friday, May 29, 2015 - 8:00 PM Done
Saturday, May 30, 2015 - 8:00 PM Done
Artists
Kent Nagano, conductorchef d’orchestre
Heidi Melton, soprano (Sieglinde)soprano (Sieglinde)
Torsten Kerl, tenor (Sigmund)ténor (Sigmund)
Petri Lindroos, bass (Hunding)basse (Hunding)

Presentation of the concert

Wagner, Die Walküre, Act I

Kent Nagano and the OSM continue their Wagner cycle with the first act of Die Walküre, second of the four operas that make up the Ring cycle. Enjoying much public and critical acclaim, soprano Heidi Melton is widely regarded as one of the most promising Wagnerian sopranos since Flagstad and Nilsson. German tenor Torsten Kerl makes frequent appearances on stages around the world, and is well-known for his Wagnerian roles including Siegfried and Tannhäuser. This concert will appeal to Wagnerian cognoscenti and novices alike.

Please note that there will be no intermission during this concert.

 

Preconcert organ recital at 7 p.m.

Jonathan Oldengarm, organ

Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Prelude (trans. E. H. Lemare)

Wagner, Tannhäuser, "Pilgrim’s Chorus" (trans. F. Liszt)

Wagner, Die Walküre, "Ride of the Valkyries" (trans. E. H. Lemare)

RICHARD WAGNER
Born in Leipzig, May 22, 1813 - Died in Venice, February 13, 1883
DIE WALKÜRE, ACT I

Richard Wagner’s stupendous operatic tetralogy, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) stands as one of the most compelling and overwhelming creations in the history of mankind. Its four components – Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, meant to be presented on consecutive days – require 15 hours or so to perform (not counting intermissions), involve nearly 40 characters, and depict nothing less than the entire cosmos in one all-embracing art form.

The Ring occupied Wagner for more than a quarter of a century, from his first version of the text in 1848 (Wagner, incidentally, was the first major opera composer to write his own librettos) to completion of the orchestral score of Götterdämmerung in 1874. The first performance of the complete cycle took place in August of 1876 in Bayreuth, Germany, where the composer had overseen construction of a new theater designed specifically to accommodate his colossal creation. It was the musical event of the decade. (Individual performances of Das Rheingold and Die Walküre had already taken place in 1869 and 1870 respectively, in Munich.)

Die Walküre is the best known of the four Ring operas, the most popular, the most often performed, the one that most lends itself to an isolated production outside the context of the cycle, and the one with the most famous excerpts drawn from it.

What accounts for the special appeal of Die Walküre? For one thing, it deals with real people we can relate to and care very much about. More importantly, we are caught up in a world of love, tenderness and compassion. In fact, the whole of Act I is one great, compelling love story, from the initial spark of interest to flaming passion. Die Walküre has more lyricism than any other Ring opera. If the driving force of Das Rheingold was the love of power, then Die Walküre represents exactly the opposite, the power of love.

Much has happened since the end of Das Rheingold, when Wotan, chief of the gods, retired to Valhalla, and where he now muses on how to avert a world catastrophe. Among other events, he has created a race of heroes, the Volsungs, one of whom is Siegmund. Siegmund is Wotan’s great hope for the future. The god realizes that the terrible curse invested in the ring by the evil dwarf Alberich in Das Rheingold can be exorcised only by returning it to its primal origin in the depths of the Rhine. But how to do this? The ring presently lies under the huge bulk of the dragon Fafner, who spends all his time sleeping in a cave. Wotan himself cannot steal the ring from Fafner; he needs someone to do the dirty work for him, someone who will act entirely out of ignorance, who will not contravene any laws in this act of free will, someone totally unaware of the ring’s power, its curse and its history.

We learn all of this only gradually, in narratives and flashbacks, as Die Walküre unfolds. With the instinct of a born dramatist, Wagner plunges us immediately into a thrilling storm scene, replete with blinding sheets of rain, streaks of lightning, thunder and oppressive dark clouds. There is also a sense of urgency, flight, even frenzied pursuit, and in a moment we see the object of this pursuit – Siegmund. He staggers into the primitive hut belonging to Hunding and collapses. Hunding is out, but his wife Sieglinde comes upon the exhausted stranger and tends to his immediate needs. The orchestra expresses all the tenderness Sieglinde feels for the weary Siegmund, a tenderness that almost from the start transcends mere care and passes into budding romance. We pick up intimations of this dawning love from the first statements of Sieglinde’s motif of pity, a gently caressing theme for violins. We know that a deep bond of romantic affection is already forming by the time the long cello solo arrives.

The mood is suddenly broken by the arrival of Sieglinde’s husband, the brutish Hunding. When he enters, it is to the full force of the entire tuba section (four so-called “Wagner” tubas, designed specifically for the Ring, plus the standard contrabass tuba). Hunding is immediately suspicious of the stranger. He also is quick to observe the close physical resemblance between Siegmund and Sieglinde (they are in fact brother and sister, as they discover later in the act), but, bound by the laws of hospitality, allows him to stay. Siegmund then relates his past.

As a boy he lived with his father Wälse (Wotan in mortal guise), mother and twin sister in the forest. One day they returned from hunting to find their home burned to the ground, the mother dead, the sister gone. Siegmund now calls himself Wehwalt (Woeful). At this point in the narrative we hear one of the Ring’s most sorrowful motifs, that of the Volsung Race. In the course of the narration Hunding realizes that Siegmund is his mortal enemy, and vows to kill him come morning.

Hunding heads for bed while Sieglinde prepares his nightcap laced with a sleeping potion. Siegmund is left alone by the dying embers of the hearth, lamenting his sad fate to be weaponless at a time like this. The tension and anticipation that have been building throughout his soliloquy suddenly resolve in a new motif and a new sonority. This is the sword motif played on the bass trumpet. At this point in the story the sword is but a glimmer of half-forgotten hope in Siegmund’s memory, the weapon promised to him long ago by his father in hour of dire need.

Sieglinde returns to inform Siegmund that there is indeed a sword for him in this very abode. It was left there long ago by a mysterious, one-eyed stranger (Wotan). Plunging it into the tree growing through the center of the hut, the stranger declared that it was destined only for the one who had the strength to pull it free. Suddenly the door to the hut flies open to reveal a beautiful spring evening outside, heralding the act’s most celebrated passage, “Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond” (Winter storms have vanished in the springtime). The mood is now one of rejuvenation, spiritual awakening, rapturous joy and radiant spirits, as the Volsung twins rejoice in their new-found love.

Siegmund effortlessly pulls the sword from the tree. Ecstatically recognizing their identity as long-lost brother and sister, the twins declare their love for each other and rush out into the night as the curtain falls on this hour-long act – a mighty crescendo that has moved from weariness to exuberance, from grief to joy, from darkness to light, from simple affection to full-blown passion.

© Robert Markow

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