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Die Walkure at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

After a fine dinner in the restaurant atop the Kennedy Center, we settled into orchestra seats stage left below the first balcony. The announcement that Mr Domingo had a cold and asked for our forbearance did not bode well but my trepidation was misplaced. The Washington National Opera production of Die Walkure sounded as wonderful as it looked. Domingo's Siegmunde gave the most glorious duet with Anja Kampe as Sieglinde in Act 1. For 70 minutes I sat enthralled as a storm-buffeted New England style house (it was too neat to be from Kansas or Scandinavia) opened up to reveal the tree at its centre and the harsh home of Gidon Saks as Hunding.

I did not care that the twentieth century setting for the opera is a thirty-year old conceit. When Act 2 opened with its Metropolis-style thirties vision of the high-rise urban office in which Wotan (Alan Held) managed the affairs of Midgard and Valhalla, I was as thrilled as if it were new to me. Linda Watson's Brunhilde was entrancing as a playful warrior aviatrix and I could imagine Elena Zaremba's Fricka as a calculating cocktail party hostess. The repeated film sequences of boiling clouds, of bombers and the symbols of world wars left me unmoved after an initial pleasure but the neglected beauty of the devastated cityscape below ruined freeways formed an evocative milieu for Hunding's hunt of the incestuous lovers.

The early conversation between Brunhilde and her father about command and freedom was deftly handled so that it was clear why she would take the terrible step of defying her father to execute his self-conflicting desire. So, when she flees with Sieglinde to the faintly absurd parachuting valkyries, we can understand why they might consider helping and shielding her. Once the parachutes were cast aside, the pilots' uniforms worked well, however. Outranked by their greatcoated father, the valkyries leave Brunhilde to face the consequences of her defiance and the third act ends with her in a ring of oily flames awaiting the arrival of Siegfried towards the end of 2008.

Francesca Zambello, the director, has created a production that enlarges the audience through their ears and their eyes.  The imagery may be unsubtle at times but this is no real shortcoming against the broad brushstrokes of Wagner's music and the grand libretto. The conjunction of the German military way with an American context uis not entirely comfortable in a mid-twentieth century setting but the synergistic energy of the show carried me above all that.

So, Brunhilde sleeps through what will seem like a long wait for the rest of us.  I just hope that Siegfried can arrive before my eager impatience overwhelms me.

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September 2015

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