Die Walküre is the best of Wagner’s four Ring operas. How do I know? Well, I can hear and the numbers also tell me so. Giuseppe Verdi was not only opera’s greatest composer, but also came up with the best system of evaluating the worth of an opera. “Look to the box office,” he said. “The theater was meant to be full.” So I did. Die Walküre has 537 performances by the Met; Siegfried 271; Götterdämmerung 236; Das Rheingold 168. These numbers are as of the end of the 2017-18 season. The audience’s preference for the best Ring opera is clear.

The reason for Walküre’s predominance is the beauty of its music, its simplicity (at least by Wagnerian standards) and it’s basic humanity even though it’s about the interaction of gods and humans. Wotan, ostensibly the king of the gods, is in reality an unfaithful husband who has been dropping bastards all over the land like perspiration off of a long distance runner. He’s also financially over extended as he’s bought way more house than he can afford. And to top it off he’s henpecked. Oh, and I almost forgot, he has a favorite teen aged daughter who disobeys him.

Despite the above mentioned shenanigans, the center of the story is the love of two young people, we’ll ignore incest especially in our current state of enlightenment, and the love between a father and daughter. The music is at its most glorious when dealing with these two relationships.  The flow of melody from voice to orchestra and back is masterly. Today’s performance fully realized the magnificence of the vocal and orchestral writing. Of course, the opera is a bladder buster and could have stayed aloft with about an hour less of notes, but Wagner is Wagner and you just have to accept his addiction to the prolix.

Stuart Skelton and Eva-Maria Westbroek were the incestuous lovers. Wotan is their father. There’s so much inbreeding going on in Nibelungenland that Deliverance could have been filmed there. I’m surprised that Wagner didn’t add a banjo part. Skelton is an Australian heldentenor who has all the notes needed for any of Wagner’s big tenor parts. He was assured and powerful as the unfortunate Wälsung who gets to sire Siegfried before he’s offed by Hunding. Skelton’s only problem, one endemic to Wagner singers, is that he pretty portly and moves rather ponderously. But the voice is there.

Westbroek, who made her debut in this role in 2011 though she only made it through the first act on that occasion, delivered the best singing of the afternoon. A real compliment as all the singers were very good. The truth is, that despite all the attention given to Brünnhilde, Sieglinde is a better part. Westbroek’s voice was lyrical when needed and soared over Wagner’s engorged orchestra with ease. A wonderful performance.

Bass Günther Groissböck has a virile bass-baritone voice. He brought more voice and intensity to Hunding than is usually the case. Despite not engaging our sympathy, Hunding has a real set of grievances. Groissböck’s ready for Wotan which he’ll do next year at Bayreuth.

Christine Goerke has moved into the heavy dramatic soprano repertory over the past half dozen or so years. She has a full rich voice that handled the part of Wotan’s misbehaving daughter with ease. She’s doing Turandot next season a role she has already sung at the Met. Her voice was somewhat muffled at the start of the second act, but opened fully as the act progressed.

Jamie Barton has a very powerful and lovely mezzo that can cover a lot of operatic territory. As put upon wife of the philandering king of the gods she easily put him in his place during their one scene together. She’s destined for great things if she’s not undone by health problems secondary to the very large amount of extra weight she carries.

Greer Grimsley has been singing all over the world for about three decades, but he’s only logged 30 performances at the Met. Well into his 60s he no longer has the sumptuous bass-baritone of his earlier years. But he does have full command of Wotan and delivers his lines with total authority. A splendid job.

The orchestra is perhaps the most formidable component of this opera. Wagner’s use of his orchestral palette is extraordinary. Maestro Philippe Jordan got nothing but brilliance from his players. The Met’s orchestra is a work of art thanks largely to the now disgraced and discarded James Levine. The orchestral playing this afternoon was the world’s standard for Die Walküre. 

Gary Halvorson stage contraption, dubbed The Machine by the Met’s personnel, still works very well and helps the production to move at a pace close to what its composer intended. Fun to watch.

This performance is worth going to the repeat if you missed it. Don’t drink any water for 24 hours before the show if you do decide to go.

Video director Gary Halvorson kept the cameras at bay. Less is definitely more when it comes to these telecasts.

Metropolitan Opera House
March 30, 2019
DIE WALKÜRE
Richard Wagner–Richard Wagner

Brünnhilde…………..Christine Goerke
Siegmund…………….Stuart Skelton
Sieglinde……………Eva-Maria Westbroek
Wotan……………….Greer Grimsley
Fricka………………Jamie Barton
Hunding……………..Günther Groissböck
Gerhilde…………….Kelly Cae Hogan
Grimgerde……………Maya Lahyani
Helmwige…………….Jessica Faselt
Ortlinde…………….Wendy Bryn-Harmer
Rossweisse…………..Mary Phillips
Schwertleite…………Daryl Freedman
Siegrune…………….Eve Gigliotti
Waltraute……………Renée Tatum

Conductor……………Philippe Jordan

Production…………..Gary Halvorson
Associate Director……Neilson Vignola
Set Designer…………Carl Fillion
Costume Designer……..François St-Aubin
Lighting Designer…….Etienne Boucher
Video Image Artist……Boris Firquet
Stage Director……….Gina Lapinski
Stage Director……….J. Knighten Smit
Video Director………….Gary Halvorson