Die Walküre

Music and libretto by Richard Wagner
Pacific Opera Victoria
The Royal Theatre, Victoria BC

Viktor Antipenko and Aviva Fortunata in Die Walküre Credit: David Cooper
Viktor Antipenko as Siegmund in Die Walküre Credit: David Cooper
Viktor Antipenko, Simon Wilding and Aviva Fortunata in Die Walküre Credit: David Cooper
Viktor Antipenko as Siegmund in Die Walküre Credit: David Cooper
Allyson McHardy and Mark Delavan in Die Walküre Credit: David Cooper
Viktor Antipenko and Aviva Fortunata in Die Walküre Credit: David Cooper
Wotan (Mark Delavan) and Valkyries (Jennifer Taverner, Mariya Krywaniuk, Maria Soulis, and Susan Platts) in Die Walküre Credit: David Cooper

Let’s begin where I’m sure other reviewers have gone, as noted by Timothy Vernon in the program notes from Das Rheingold nine years ago: "this production may smack of hubris, but we hope that... we find a climactic moment of collected achievement—a shared moment of glory."

Pacific Opera Victoria usually is a great place for opera productions. The last show I saw at the Royal Theatre was a production of Mozart’s and LaPonte’s Cosi fan tutti, a small and intimate opera, set in the Royal Theatre's relatively small and intimate house. As the directors and designers are aware, the Royal is not the first place you would think to produce a Wagnerian opera. Some operas are larger than others, of course, and a Rheingold would and did do fine, by all accounts.

But the full Wagnerian orchestra had grown by the current opera to fit the huge orchestra pit, literally built underneath the stage of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, to Wagner’s own specifications. Thus, as Mike Devlin of the Victoria Times Colonist noted on October 5, 2023,

Wagner wrote Die Walküre for more than 100 players, with 16 first violins and 16 second violins among the head-spinning requirements. Audiences no longer require the operatic gigantism that was popular in the late 19th century, which has opened up Wagner’s work to modern-day operaphiles. Several adaptations that are available work with a reduced footprint, which is how Pacific Opera staged Das Rheingold in 2014 with a 40-member orchestra.

Thus, composers and arrangers of the 19th century produced various piano and symphonic reductions in the days before the compact disc / LP debates were even possible. Liszt, for instance, did a number of piano reductions of entire operas, song cycles, and so on, to make music that would otherwise be unavailable to patrons and musicians in smaller cities possible to know, at least in part. (So we learned back in the day in my music history courses, but I also remember that composers could make a pretty penny from this kind of work! See, for instance, Marcel Simader's production of Liszt’s reduction of Beethoven’s Symphony 5, Opus 67 as found on YouTube.)

The end result? Pacific Opera Victoria attempted the impossible and almost made it. Bravo for that.

However, things are compounded and made yet more difficult by the fact that not only has Die Walküre a large orchestra, it also has a big cast, gods and humans alike with no reduction possible there. If you want to do Walküre, you need nine Valkyries, including the first of three Brünnhildes, the second of four Wotans, and his wife, goddess of marriage, as well as an entire crowd of illegitimate children, including Sigmund and Sieglinde, who are a) in love and b) not married to each other. In addition, Sigmund and Sieglinde are brother and sister, part of Wotan’s eugenic effort to create the perfect hero, one who can save Wotan from his own failings and broken oaths, an effort, as we know, doomed to failure.

The scenic requirements (a total of four separate sets over four acts) fared better with the reduction of the four sets to one by designer Pam Johnson and Jamie Nesbit’s video projections, though the stage left projector seemed to have a case of opening night jitters, as it kept flickering. The costumes, also by Ms. Johnson, were very much an A plus. Gorgeous work. And when the projectors co-operated, Nesbit’s video projections very much worked, especially a long sequence in which projections moved us all to the mountaintops, the setting of the last three acts, and creating a ring of fire out of light all over the set, all preceded by an animated flight of Valkyries that began with a laser and a chalk drawing.

The acting and singing were really quite fine under associate conductor Guiseppe Pietroroia’s last minute appearance, replacing an ill Timothy Vernon, and most of Glynis Lyshon’s direction great at bringing out character through action and voice (though one could wish for better use of implied stage directions such as “Now you hold the sword in your hands,” when that sword was in fact at least seven feet out of the reach of our poor hero).

The performances were all dead on, including Mark Delavan’s Wotan, Allyson McHardy’s Fricka and Simon Wilding’s awful and rude Hunding, who used his magnificent voice as a weapon to terrorize Sieglinde via an assumed harshness.

The Sigmund and Sieglinde (Viktor Antipenko and Aviva Fortunata) were both dramatically thrilling—partially because we know they’re not going to survive from the first moment they see each other. They are doomed by the curse put on the Ring in Rheingold, but also because Wotan, for all that he is the God over all the other gods of the pantheon, is weak and won’t protect them as he should. He’s God of Oaths but he can’t keep his own word; having said that, Antipenko and Fortunata sing in ways that convince us that as lovers, they have a long future ahead of them with the singers’ bright and lush voices that cut through the orchestra with ease, regardless of their moods. Even their whispers carry throughout the house. Both have had and will have fine careers, as will the rest of the cast.

And Jennifer Maines’s Brünnhilde was so fine, though occasionally overpowered by her sisters, the eight other Valkyries. Maines was a boyish and fun-loving warrior, a kind of Wagnerian Cherubino in a soprano range who played well against (and with) Delavan’s Wotan.

So, thanks much to Pacific Opera Victoria for some very exciting performances and rich explorations of family dynamics: the mere size of show may have been a bit much for a 1,400-seat house (by comparison, the second largest opera house in North America is that of Chicago’s Lyric Opera, with its 3,800 seats and a huge pit and arch), but the various duets between people all committed very much to their support of their own causes at any cost was devastating as Wagner always is. Final grade: B for both beautiful and brave.

Reviewer: Keith Dorwick

*Some links, including Amazon, Stageplays.com, Bookshop.org, ATG Tickets, LOVEtheatre, BTG Tickets, Ticketmaster, LW Theatres and QuayTickets, are affiliate links for which BTG may earn a small fee at no extra cost to the purchaser.

Are you sure?