Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 8th of November 2009 at 3 - 4.25 pm
UNDERGROUND The meaning of it all
WAGNER: Der Ring des Nibelungen, the stage-festival play, performed as a tetralogy of prologue and three operas
WAGNER: Die Walküre, Act 3
Wotan........................... Donald McIntyre
Brunnhilde..................... Anne Evans
Sieglinde....................... Kathryn Harries
Valkyries....................... Darren Edmondson
..................................... Elizabeth Biggs
..................................... Emily Mair
..................................... Jan Harrington
..................................... Flora Edwards
..................................... Judy Bellingham
..................................... Margaret Medlyn
..................................... Carmel Carroll
New Zealand SO/Franz Paul Decker
(recorded in the Auckland Town Hall,
16 November 1989, by RNZ)
WAGNER: Die Walküre
The Valkyrie is Brünnhilde, who gives in to human emotions and is left to sleep in penitence on a rock surrounded by fire, with the possibility that a fearless hero might awaken her one day.
I was there for this production (without scenery), but Helen and I went to the Wellington night, and found next day that Wotan had been staying in the same hotel as us; we saw Donald McIntyre when tenor Christopher Doig came to take him away.
I saw the whole thing (presumably cut down) when I was 17, in the theatre of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music; Eugene Goossens conducted the student orchestra, which included their teachers, who were members of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. On that Saturday night Siegmund (Allan Ferris) managed to inflict a bleeding wound on Hunding. A few years later, with my two fellow Wagnerites, Grattan and Geldard, I saw and heard Hans Hotter performing this final section, as part of a Sydney Symphony concert in the Sydney Town Hall, before the opera house was built.
Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) Act One
At the end of the Rhinegold, we saw the chief god Wotan, with his consort Fricka and the other gods, crossing a rainbow bridge and making their way into the celestial castle named Disneyworld, or Walhalla in German. The name could mean the hall with a wall, or else choice hall (Wahl-halle), the abode of the choice people, the elect. However, the divinities were not having it all to themselves: it was to become a retirement home for heroes slain in battle. To transport them on high, Wotan (Woden, Wednesday's child) went down to earth and mated with Earth (Erda,whom we saw warning Wotan to give up the Rhinegold ring), and produced nine warrior maidens known as Valkyries. They would carry the dead heroes on their Pegasus-like steeds to the upper realm, howling and yowling and whoopwhooping as they ascend in their wild ride.
We might find the true meaning of Walhalla if we analyse the word Valkyrie, German Walküre, Scandinavian Valkyrja 'slain-chooser' (val, valiant dead; kyr choose) though I still like may idea that it means 'chooser of the chosen'. Anyway, Valhalla is the hall of those slain in battle. When they get to Heaven they are revived, not primarily to drink mead and ale in the banqueting hall (the common misconception) but to form a celestial army. With our hindsight we know that what Wotan really needed was a fire brigade (remember the great conflagration coming at the end of Götterdämmerung). The demi-god Loge (Loki) did not live there, because he was a potential potent arsonist.
Wotan was a wanderer (he is called Wanderer in Siegfried), and in spite of being married to Fricka, the patroness of family values (or perhaps he thought that putting other females 'in a family way' was promoting that cause) he went about spilling his..., or, as we now say, passing on his precious genes. Under the assumed name Wälse he fathered a pair of human twins by a woman of the Völsung or Wälsung family: a daughter Sieglinde, and a son Siegmund. They were brought up separately.Young Siegmund was expected to confront the dragon Fafner in his den and bring back the ring; Wotan even placed a sword in an ash tree for him to find. This tree was part of the interior decoration in the dwelling of a hostile man named Hunding (note the hound reference in his name; the canine connection of the twins was that their father was a wolf; no, truly, seriously, they really thought he was).
By chance or design, Sieglinde was married to Hunding, and one stormy day Siegmund was on the run (you can hear the tempest and the chase in the brief overture). He burst into the Hunding house exclaiming: Wes Herd dies auch sei, hier muss ich rasten (Whose hearth this 'och' be, here must I rest).
He lies down. Sieglinde comes in, thinking her man has come home wanting his dinner, but instead she cries: Ein fremder Mann! (a strange man). She moves closer and closer, talking to herself all the while. Siegmund suddenly begs for 'ein Quell' or two (Quell means 'a well', so he is saying 'Can you please direct me to the nearest drinking fountain). She gives him water from
a drink-horn, and he is grateful. She tells him he can have refuge in Hunding's home. He says he is weaponless and wounded, and she immediately wants him to show her his wounds. No, they are only slight, he says. But she now puts meed in the horn, and they share it.
He rises to leave, but she urges him to stay. When she asks what he is running away from, he starts on the catalogue of names he applies to himself (having forgotten his real name): Woeful, Doleful, and so on through Act One.
Sinister spine-tingling brass chords announce gruff Hunding's arrival, wearing armour and carrying his spear (his horse he leaves in the stall).
Get the meal for us men, he eventually orders. Hunding notices the stranger's resemblance to his wife, and in the table-talk Siegmund says he cannot call himself Peaceful (Friedmund) or Joyful (Frohwalt), but Woeful (Wehwalt); his father was Wolfe, and he is a thus a Wolfing, and he had a twin sister. After the guest has told his long story, Hunding realizes that this is the foe he has been pursuing, and, in effect, he challenges him to a duel in the morning. He goes to bed; his wife gives him a sleeping draught.
Alone, Siegmund wonders where the sword promised by his father might be, and he notices something shining in the axial ash tree. Sieglinde tells him that at her wedding a one-eyed man came in and put a sword there. Siegmund successfully draws out the blade; she tells him his true name is Siegmund (Victor); they have an extended love-duet; the door bursts opens in tune with their passion and the spring moonlight floods the room. To your brother you are bride and sister; so let the Wälsung blood flourish, are his last words. Hunding's first utterance
had been: Let my house be holy to you. And here they are embracing on his floor. Nothing's sacred any more.
Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) Act Two
The first sounds from the orchestra are the frenzied trumpeting of the sword motif, amid turbulence. The blissful kissful unhappy ill-fated lovers are now on the run; Sieglinde and her twin-brother Siegmund Wölfing Wälsung are fleeing from the outraged Hunding, Sieglinde's unloved husband. We do not see the distressed couple, but we hear their agitation in the music. They are impatiently waiting in the wings until scene three, for fifty minutes, while the gods discuss the morality of their unnatural relationship.
We suddenly think the orchestra has turned too many pages and is already into the Ride of the Valkyries of Act 3. But no, Wotan (Woden, Odin) comes into view, wearing armour (or a double-breasted suit) and holding his spear, accompanied by Brünnhilde the Valkyrie, with her helmet, shield, and spear (well, that's how Kirsten Flagstad looked) but some versions might want her dressed differently (as Catwoman, or Wonder Woman, or Maria von Trapp).
Wotan tells his beloved daughter to take his son Siegmund's side in the coming combat between the husband and the brother. She leaps from rock to rock (if she is lucky, but they might give her an escalator). Brünnhilde is giving forth her war-cry: Hoyotoho, Heiaha (and a bottle of rum). From her high perch she espies Wotan's consort Fricka, her step-mother (or is Fricka her aunt?), and she warns her father to prepare for a fierce fight himself.
Brünnhilde beats a hasty retreat into a cave, with her steed Grane. We don't expect to see the horse, nor the two rams drawing Fricka's carriage. She (presumably being based on Wagner's own wife Minna) jumps straight in: she knows he has been avoiding her, hiding in the mountains (Switzerland, with his rich woman-friend, Mathilde Wesendonck, equivalent to Erda, with whom Wotan had found passionate comfort, and who had given birth to the nine Valkyries). You won't have read all that in any books, because I made it up; but notice the reference to 'Minne's power. (Minne means 'love') in Wotan's lines.
Hunding has appealed to Fricka, as the guardian of marriages. (Who is going to cook his meals and bring him his nightcap now?). Wotan says he does not recognize an oath of wedlock if the marriage is loveless. Fricka now launches them into a full-throttled domestic dispute. She pours out her resentment over his sexual relations with a woman to produce the twins and with a goddess to engender the Valkyries. Wotan says she does not understand: the gods need this hero to get the gold and the Ring back.
(Beowulf has been at the movies in 2007 and we need to note that Sigemund is the dragon-slayer in that Anglo-Saxon epic; he gains the treasure, including a hoard of rings, not just one.)
Wotan and Fricka argue over Siegmund's status as a free agent, if he has a divine father and a magic sword. Fricka eventually wins, and Wotan swears to her that Siegmund will lose; and Brünnhilde will now ensure that Hunding is the victor.
Brooding deeply, Wotan tells the story that we already know from Das Rheingold. He adds the details about the origin of the Valkyries (had she never asked him, who is my mother?) and the bad news that Alberich (the Nibelung who had forsworn love to get his hands on the gold) had now fathered a boy in hate through a woman he paid to render him this service; that child (Hagen is his name we will learn ultimately) will get the Ring and bring about the downfall of the gods.
Wotan gives his daughter the command to take Hunding's side now, and he becomes angry when she tries to talk him out of it.
The lovers arrive; Sieglinde is hysterical and wants to to press on further; Siegmund wants her to rest (I presume they have been up all night). Finally she faints, and he cradles her.
Brünnhilde appears (only heroes about to die can ever see her); she tells Siegmund she is taking him to Valhalla. Will Sieglinde come, too? No? Then it's no go. He even threatens to kill Sieglinde with the sword. Brünnhilde is overwhelmed with compassion, and agrees to save them.
A gentle scene, then Hunding's horns announce his arrival. The Valkyrie supports her step-brother, but Wotan intervenes, lets Hunding do the foul deed, then kills him, sending him to Fricka with the message of the outcome she desired. And now he is intent on punishing Brünnhilde for her disobedience.
A woman has conceived and will give birth to a son, and his name shall be called ... Siegfried.
Wagner: Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) Act Three:
The wild music we hear is known as 'the ride of the Valkyries', but there will probably be no horses; they will be hiding in the woods, bucking and jostling. The wild place we see (in our mind's eye) is where the nine Valkyries meet, before riding up to Walhalla with the heroes they have garnered from battlefields. Count them. There are only four: Gerhilde (name means the
German heroine, or something else), Ortlinde (from the place where linden trees grow?), Waltraute (forest rue?), Schwertleite (leading sword?). Then Helmwige (has a wig under her helmet?) arrives with her catch slumped over her saddle. They all exchange Hoyotoho and Heiaha. Likewise when the others fly in: Siegrune (victory through reading runes?), Grimgerde (Grim Gertie?), and Rossweisse (knows her horses, especially white ones?). They are all wearing full armour, but don't be surprised if they appear in evening gowns at a dinner party, or in miniskirts doing go-go dancing (singing Yohoho and a bottle of rum).
One is still missing. Where is Brünnhilde? Here she comes, pursued by Wotan, but that's a living woman her horse Grane is carrying (highly irregular). 'Das ist kein Held!' (That is no hero) Helmwige exclaims (she could be a man hiding under that wig); she is pre-echoing Siegfried's astonishment when he takes the armour off Brünnhilde asleep on her rock ('Das ist kein Mann'). It is Sieglinde, and now that her brother and lover Siegmund is dead, she wants to die; and so she invites Brünnhilde to kill her. She changes her plea when she is told she is bearing Siegmund's love-child. She can hide in the forest, near the cave where Fafner the giant has become a dragon to guard the Rheingold; she will be safe from Wotan there, because he avoids the area. (Wrong, he does eventually go there to confront Mime and Alberich, in Siegfried.) The child will be called Siegfried (listen for his theme resounding on horns). The pieces of Siegmund's sword are entrusted to Sieglinde. There has been a lot of shrieking hysterics, because Wotan is coming, in raging wrath, but Sieglinde becomes ecstatic and cries out thankfully as she leaves: 'O hehrstes Wunder' (O most marvellous wonder). This beautiful tune will lie dormant till the very end of the epic, when it will rise above the sound of the crumbling crashing world to proclaim 'redemption through love'. It only lasts a moment (7 brief bars, fortissimo). Remember it. In both cases it declares to us that Brünnhilde is a wonderful woman.
When Wotan comes on, fulminating (with optional lightning and thunder on stage), Brünnhilde has wrapped herself in a huddle of her sisters. He goes on at great length about her treachery and the punishment she shall receive: she will be put into a death-like sleep on the rock,
until a man comes along and wakes her, and takes her to his home, where she will sit obediently by the hearth and spin. (That bit never happens; she will be taken to a palace.)
The Valkyries flee in terror into the woods, when Wotan threatens the same fate to them unless they avoid her. We are left with two talking heads and a massive orchestra (completely out of sight). According to Wagner's stage directions there could be clasping of knees and farewell kissing of eyes, as the bargaining proceeds, but it is mostly Brünnhilde pleading for mercy and attempting to justify herself.
'War es so schmählich was ich verbrach?' (Was what I did so shameful?). So begins a dialogue lasting half an hour (in which she pleads that she was only doing what he really wanted her to do) leading to a monologue of Wotan which fills the final quarter of an hour, but the music will sweep us along.
Wotan bids his daughter a heartfelt farewell, sets her on the rock, summons Loge to surround it with magic fire, and enunciates a solemn warning: 'Whoever fears the point of my spear, never pass through this fire'.
WAGNER'S VALKYRIEBrünnhilde..................... Iréne Theorin
Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 17th of May 2009 at 3 - 8.25 pm
Sieglinde....................... Waltraud Meier
Fricka........................... Yvonne Naef
Siegmund...................... Johan Botha
Wotan........................... James Morris
Hunding........................ John Tomlinson
Metropolitan Orch/James Levine
When the time came, Johan Botha was not able to sing Siegmund. As you can see way down below, we had this one from New York a year ago, with Lisa Gasteen (Australian) Deborah Voigt, Clifton Forbis, James Morris.
Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 14th of September 2008 at 3 - 7 pm
(2) Die Walküre, an opera in three acts
Siegmund...................... Stig Andersen
Hunding........................ Walter Fink
Wotan........................... Juha Uusitalo
Sieglinde....................... Evelyn Herlitzius
Brünnhilde..................... Susan Bullock
Fricka........................... Judit Németh
Gerhilde........................ Eszter Somogyi
Ortlinde......................... Mária Ardó
Waltraute...................... Gabriella Fodor
Schwertleite.................. Annamária Kovács
Helmwige...................... Gertrúd Wittinger
Siegrune........................ Éva Várhelyi
Grimgerde..................... Kornélia Bakos
Rossweisse................... Jutta Bokor
Hungarian Radio SO/Adám Fischer
(recorded in the Bartók National Concert Hall,
Palace of Arts, Budapest by Hungarian Radio)