The brass in particular produced a noble sound that added immense power to Wagner's music. At the same time, they largely avoided the mistakes that often dot the landscape of "Walkure" performances.
Mark can be an inconsistent conductor, but on opening night in Norfolk, he was in top form, leading a swift and dynamic performance that reserved the true climax of the opera for the final scene between Wotan and Brunnhilde.
This meant that Act I was slightly restrained, but this was as it should be. Mark's fast tempo for the familiar "Ride of the Valkyries" in Act III made for an exhilarating experience.
Director Lillian Groag focused on storytelling and made the most of the interactions between characters, so the long opera flew by.
Never has the musical and dramatic sense of the final scene been clearer. Groag's staging helped to explain why Wagner needed 40 minutes to play this scene out. It's not because he was a long-winded composer, but because Wotan and Brunnhilde couldn't say goodbye to one another this father simply didn't want to give up his daughter. When he finally did, the emotional impact was overwhelming.
Groag was blessed with a first-rate cast. With their blond good looks and long hair, Siegmund and Sieglinde certainly were the outsiders, and their spontaneous interactions contrasted with the stiffer demeanor of the other characters. Soprano Jeannine Altmeyer was a moving Sieglinde, singing with a rich voice that expressed all the longing and suffering of this unhappy woman.
Tenor Thomas Rolf Truhitte portrayed Siegmund as emotionally impulsive. His voice had the brassy brilliance needed to ride Wagner's orchestra. His cries of "Walse" in Act I were steady and powerful, though not forced. Yet there was also lyricism to his "Wintersturme" and the touching "Zauberfest" passage before his death.
Soprano Susan Marie Pierson sang a brilliant Brunnhilde, with enough depth to her voice to allow for the character's growing humanity. Her top notes were exciting and accurate, especially in her final appeal to Wotan.
In the latter role, Marc Embree was better in the upper half of his range, which rang out strongly. As his voice went lower, his vibrato tended to broaden, and his sound lost focus. Still, he was a compelling Wotan. Tracie Luck was the rich-voiced Fricka, standing up strongly to Embree in their Act II confrontation.
Bass Charles Robert Austin sang a less loutish Hunding than is usual, and there was a first-rate ensemble of Valkyries who made the opening of Act III a highlight.
Robert Cothran's set of platforms and panels gave the opera a modern yet timeless look, as did Tracey Dorman's costumes.
The production team solved the problems of the magic fire imaginatively, aided by Robert Wierzel's lighting.
It was a grand night at the opera; this is one not to be missed. Opera doesn't come much better than this "Walkure." S
Virginia Opera's premiere production of Richard Wagner's "Die Walkure" comes to the Carpenter Center Oct. 18, 20, 22. Tickets cost $27-$76. Call 262-8100.
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