The biggest problem with Wagner’s Die Walkure isn’t its length, even though yesterday a five and a half hour viewing experience was stretched to six when there was half an hour’s delay before curtain, apparently because the computer that dictated the movement of the set was lacking some data(21st-century theater problems!). For the first two thirds, in fact, you don’t really feel the time, which is a sign of something being good. It does start to drag more during the end, when you start to think Brunnhilde might have to die, because usually in opera a death at the end is the only thing that will stretch it out to that extent. I suppose the death of her immortality can arguably be given the same importance.
But the real problem isn’t the length anything takes. It’s that the actions of the main character make no sense. It’s not even that the values are outdated, though that’s a problem too. It’s just that the further into the opera we go, the less Wotan’s actions seem believable; even if you apply patriarchal values to them, it’s not enough to make you suspend disbelief. And Wotan is just as much the main character in this one as Brunhilde, maybe even more(Brunhilde’s thoughts and actions are sensible enough, which is more than can be said for any of the other gods involved). Which means the only act through which you never think “Are you kidding me?” is the first. And that’s the one focusing on the incest! I find it funny that Wagner’s take on Flowers in the Attic is apparently considered one of the “purest” love scenes in opera, but at least everyone’s behavior (mostly) makes sense.
Still, while it seems the set is still giving them trouble, Bryn Terfel, as well as giving up on the overhanging hair thing and just getting an eyepatch, seems to have taken the second opera to come into his own. No longer does he seem outsung, and he might not convince you Wotan’s really going to do what he’s going to do, but he’s still going to show you his pain about it. He will apparently be singing a smaller part in Siegfried. But it’s a real pity Siegmund’s only in one opera. Jonas Kaufman’s a heartthrob with a gorgeous voice. And it’s a good thing both men could sing, because Deborah Voigt is out to own the whole cycle with her bold, well-acted, and well-sung Brunhilde. She even made riding the planks at the beginning of the third act look good, and when, terribly sorry, but the other Valkries going up and down on them as that iconic theme plays just looks silly. It’s a good thing it’s unable to ruin the music.
It also thankfully took her off hosting duties, with Placido Domingo taking over, which is always a delight, though he did have a blonde woman aiding him. He also was heavily featured in a excerpt from a documentary about James Levine which was shown during the first intermission. Though Levine himself was clearly ailing; they showed him entering the pit and the beginning and he barely seemed able to get up into his chair, though he made it through the whole thing(he’s been having back problems for ages, and when we were initially told about the delay, my dad theorized something was wrong with him and they were frantically trying to get a replacement maestro). No doubt he hopes to push through right to Gotterdamrung at the end of next year. Cross your fingers. And hope that by then the set will stop malfunctioning!