Review by Ed Nguyen
James Morris, Hildegard Behrens, Christa Ludwig, Gary Lakes, Jessye Norman
Director: Brian Large
Conductor: James Levine
Audio: German DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, or PCM stereo
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish, Chinese
Video: Color, 4:3 full-screen
Studio: Universal - Deutsche Grammophon
Features: Photo gallery, trailer, booklet
Length: 241 minutes
Release Date: November 12, 2002
must die. Let this be the Valkyrie's task!"
Walküre (The Valkyrie) is the second part of an operatic tetralogy, Richard
Wagner's epic Ring Cycle. In the
opening opera Das Rheingold, we learn
of the creation of a terrible Ring of Power, forged from the stolen gold of the
immortal Rheinmaidens. Gods,
giants, and goblins of the deep alike quarrel over the Ring, a cursed thing
whose might also promises a tragic fate for any wielder.
At the close of Das Rheingold,
this terrible treasure claims the life of its last owner, and by the
commencement of Die Walküre it is
rumored to rest in the secret clutches of the murderous giant Fafner.
Die Walküre is less concerned with
giants and goblins than it is with the mortal denizens of the Earth - humanity
itself. An eon has passed, and men
and women has settled into prominence. As
Die Walküre opens, a Nameless One,
"wolfing" by personal design and wanderer of the woods by reputation,
has found shelter in the home of the gentle-hearted woman, Sieglinde.
She is married but admires this wounded and handsome warrior.
There is a likeliness about him that intrigues her and draws her
unfathomably closer to him as she tends to his needs.
own husband, Hunding, is a loveless and pitiless soul consumed more with the
visceral thrill of combat than with the consolation of a lonely wife.
However, upon returning home that same evening from the barren
battlefield, Hunding is not amused and perhaps jealously embittered by the
presence of a stranger in his own home. The
stranger relates an unusual story of woe and tragedy, one of the downfall of his
own family by cruel Neiding tribes, how one by one he lost his mother, his
sister, and lastly his own father. Wehwalt
or "Woeful" the stranger names himself, and hardly
"Peaceful," for life has granted little contentment or tranquility for
him. As the stranger recounts how
he came about his present wounds and arrived at this home, Hunding slowly
realizes that the faceless enemy who had fled the barren battlefield is none
other than this stranger taken refuge in Hunding's own home.
sanctity of hospitality forbids Hunding from immediately slaying the stranger.
Instead, Hunding charitably grants him shelter for the evening, but come
morn, they must assemble upon the battlefield for a fight to the death.
While Hunding rests, the "wolfling" discovers the nature of his
true heroic identity from Sieglinde, for they have shared a long-forgotten
kinship in distant memory. Sieglinde
reveals the Nameless One's true name, Siegmund, son of Volsa, and together,
Sieglinde and Siegmund flee together into a wintry night turned spring by their
blossoming affections for one another.
this bond of like blood is an unholy sacrilege upon the sanctity of marriage
vows, and it cannot rest. Hunding,
for all his arrogance, is the wronged man, his wife stolen from him under the
shroud of sleep. As Act II opens,
Hunding has plead his case to the heavens, beseeching Fricka, Mistress of
Weddings, to help him exact revenge and restore his honor.
Hearing the mortal's cries, the goddess turns to her husband, the
brooding Wotan, father of hosts, ruler of Valhalla.
Fricka demands that the Volsung Siegmund be disclaimed, that this mortal must
submit to her justice. But, Wotan
lord of gods is reluctant, for he secretly prides the mortal man as a favorite
son. Fricka does not relent,
insisting that the Valkyrie Brünnhilde be dispatched to defend marriage's
sacred honour. Would Wotan have
that the marital authority of his immortal wife be mocked by the defiance of
mere mortals? Would Wotan, divine
guardian of oaths and contracts, not honor such vows?
Would Wotan rend the bonds of virtue and thereby risk the very downfall
of Valhalla and the gods? Derided
by men, deprived of power, the gods would surely perish, and who then would
grieve for the gods when they have fallen?
Fricka's demands are, in a sense, a veiled diatribe against Wotan
himself, for in his unfaithful wandering ways he has begat many a mortal or
heavenly offspring not of like blood to Fricka.
is set the stage for a hero's downfall. The
prophecies tell that a mighty sword, a magical blade thrust into an oak tree,
will appear to Siegmund when he reclaims his true name.
Notung it will be named, and none but the mightiest and most worthy
warrior, Siegmund, may claim it for his own. Yet, by the gods' command, the
prophecy will be shattered; the invincible sword will falter and betray the hero
Siegmund in his moment of direst need.
warrior maiden and daughter to Wotan, has been entrusted by her father with
seeing through this deed. One of
nine daughters, Valkyries all, Brünnhilde represents Wotan's greatest hope for
assuaging the ancient doom preordained by the Ring of Power and acknowledged by
the all-seeing ancient Earth Goddess Erda.
By bold design and internal fire of will, Brünnhilde and her sisters
over the past eon have gathered hosts of brave warriors into the halls of
the wrongful command to slay a hero weighs heavily upon Brünnhilde's mind.
Which deed is the worse crime - to betray the words of her father's
insincere command and lose his trust, or instead to betray his hopes for the
hero Siegmund and thereby forsake the goddess Fricka?
And what is to become of the woman Sieglinde?
Either way, heaven's wrath will surely destroy the loyal Valkyrie.
himself bemoans the empty glory of divinity and the complex machinations and
sacrifices of morality and justice which have thus far kept him in power.
In rage and frustration, he declares, "Let all I built fall to
pieces." It is a dark omen,
one that foreshadows the climactic Armageddon of the Ring Cycle by the fourth
until Act II do we begin to truly appreciate the true scope of the grand
conflict slowly enveloping the world. Wotan,
master of battles, chief among the gods, contends for mastery of the heavens and
earth with the darkling master of the Underworld, Alberich.
Each strives to amass a superior army, awaiting the inevitable moment
when these terrible forces must clash in a final battle before the destruction
of the world. While Alberich draws
his legions from the tormented denizens of the dark, Wotan must rely upon his
Valkyries, the warrior-sisters of the heavens, to collect fallen heroes from
battlefields past, present, and future. These
heroes will be honored guests in Valhalla until which day their legendary skills
are needed against the throes of the Nibelung Alberich.
for the terrible Ring of Power, the source of all the contention between these
lords of light and darkness? That
accursed treasure, along with the accumulated wealth of much tragedy, lies
hidden, guarded in intense secrecy by a fierce dragon, once Fafner afoot, now
ominously transformed into an unimaginable horror.
once touched by the allure of the Ring, wants to recover it to turn the tide of
battle against Alberich. But only a
"free hero," one unencumbered either by the burdens of the gods or the
dark lords, can recover the Ring and the hoard from ever-vigilant Fafner.
The crisis calls for a hero who, free from divine protection, can free
himself from all divine law. In the
love between Siegmund and Sieglinde rests the genesis of just such a hero.
But if Siegmund should fall, how fares the hopes of Wotan then?
III opens with arguably the most widely-known piece of operatic music - the
"Ride of the Valkyries." Hints
of this theme occur in quick leitmotifs throughout Die
Walküre, but only in Act III is the full grandeur of this famous theme
thrust upon us. Brünnhilde, the deed done, the crime against the gods
committed, flees in terror of her father's wrath.
She arrives amidst her sister Valkyries and pleas for their help to no
avail. Wotan arrives soon upon his
steed of iron and fire and descends upon the Valkyries, demanding that they
forsake their sister. The remainder
of the opera presents the inevitable, if bittersweet, confrontation between
father and daughter, host of heroes against the forlorn mistress of the
benefits from a prior viewing of Das
Rheingold, but one does not necessarily need prior knowledge of that earlier
opera to enjoy Die Walküre. Wotan himself in musical soliloquy provides a recap of the
main events from the first part of the Ring Cycle tetralogy.
Of the acts, Act I is surely the most romantic, Act II is the most
tragic, and Die Walküre's final act
the most exciting and intense. The
ring of fire, with the tender slumber of love that encages the principals in the
opera's finale, serves as Die Walküre's
tremendous cliff-hanger closing sequence.
opera singers are hardly renown for their acting abilities, their superior vocal
skills and stage presence often make up for any thespian deficiencies.
Jessye Norman, as Sieglinde, possesses a powerful voice even if she is
somewhat stiff as an actress. Christa
Ludwig is quite solid as the wronged Fricka, whose anger compels her husband
Wotan to commit a terrible and sorrowful deed in atonement.
Ludwig was in the twilight of her career at this point but demonstrates
that despite her age, she clearly remained a supreme singer.
The German soprano Hildegard Behrens has made Brünnhilde one of her
signature roles since the early 1980's. She
seems perhaps a bit beyond her teen years for the role here in this 1990
performance but otherwise offers a memorable portrayal of the free-minded and
of all is James Morris. He is
unsurpassed as the anguished god Wotan, a role which he has virtually inhabited
comfortably over the years. Not
only does Morris invest heartfelt sincerity into his subtle gestures and
stances, but his lyrical phrasing suggest the deep sorrow and helpless regrets
which linger in the heart of this god. Through
his actions, Wotan struggles mightily to turn asunder the horrible prophecy of
eventual death and doom for the gods. That
these terrible concerns are in significant part due to Wotan's own greed and
desires from Das Rheingold makes the dilemma of the gods more tragic.
masterpiece draws from popular lore and ancient mythology.
The sword in the tree is a variation on a theme popularized in Arthurian
mythology. The ring of power is a
popular archetypal symbol in everything from epic poems to pagan religions to
modern-day novels. Die
Walküre, as with all the other operas in the Ring Cycle, is clearly a huge
influence on popular culture even in today's epic fantasy films and
sensory-overloading space operas. While
Die Walküre is not for the faint of
heart, viewers who are interested in experiencing the potential majesty of opera
as a performance art will find Die Walküre,
the most famous of the Ring Cycle operas, very appealing indeed.
looks okay but suffers from the usual problems that all opera DVDs possess -
varying degrees of graininess and image sharpness (due to the necessity of
photographing live performances in the dark), occasional compression defects or
pixelation, and the unavoidable hazards of transferring video stock.
Keep in mind that the limitations of video versus film stock are more
readily evident when transferred to DVD. That
being said, the video quality on Die Walküre is par for the course.
listening options here are for German DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, or PCM stereo
tracks. There isn't a great deal of
different among the tracks, so any option is okay. The vocals occasionally fade in and out a little, but this is
due to the actors' relative distance to stage microphones during the
for non-German speakers, there are subtitles available, although the
translations are at times bizarre and confusing. As with all operas, viewers who first read the program notes
and plot synopsis (provided in the DVD booklet) prior to watching Die
Walküre will probably appreciate the opera more in the end.
Love's dark enemy begets a son in anger, the end of the Blessed Ones will not be
clocks in at a numbing 241 minutes spread over two DVDs.
A paucity of bonus features is thus not surprising.
On Disc One is a photo gallery with vintages photographs of the several
singers who have portrayed the lead characters (mainly Brünnhilde) in past
productions of Die Walküre.
There is also a list of several dozen available operas in the Deutsche
Grammophon DVD catalog.
On Disc Two, there is a trailer (9 min.) offering glimpses into the
performances of many of the operas in the Deutsche
Grammophon DVD catalog.
is also a 39-page booklet with accompanying notes providing a synopsis for the
opera. Production photographs are
included, and the text of the booklet is provided in English, German, and