Friday, November 22, 2013


The Rheingold set a very high bar and so it was pretty buzzy heading back in for Die Walküre, the most human, and so particularly the see-what-Armfield-does-with-it, of them all.

Long story short - as Rhinegold was all about Alberich, this was all about Wotan. Appropriately.

Curtain went up to find us circling a very very isolated small timber cabin in very very black night in a very very snowy snowy storm. Well, it was circling on the revolve but I was circling it so engaged was engageable I.  The sense of isolation and entrapment was palpable.

And then on he came, head down pushing forward through the cold blizzard night towards a little warm square of yellow light. He was Stuart Skelton's hooded Siegmund about to discover his sister, his love and his destiny. He was in fabulous voice. You know, when you thought there was no better, there's better, with such rich lovely darkening harmonics, heaps of body, a golden glow around it, and completely under his control with masterful finesse. Miriam Gordon-Stewart's Sieglinde was fragile and vulnerable, unloved and barely consolable.

When spring came, it came from within. The snow kept falling, the night stayed black, and only in the eyes of the loved did the flakes tinge with green. It was quite beautiful and understated, and the tragedy it foretold immense.

But without the help of much needed ardency from the pit, and little sense of propulsion, this marvellous pairing was left making less impact on over-expectant me than it otherwise might.

Valhalla was an huge cold clinical white spiral of soullessness. It was empty but for a vast collection of stuffed animals (seen crated and waiting in Rheingold). Again, there is room for much thought about what this is saying: Wotan a good man as preserver in the face of extinction; Wotan acquiring rarities/antiquities as a demonstration of wealth; etc. (Personally, I find taxidermy uncomfortable. I squirm at drawers of pinned butterflies. K's aunt has a huge glass cage full of stuffed birds at the bottom of the staircase. I can hardly walk past it, let alone look at it.)

Anyway, as I was saying, here is a place empty except for trophies and the vitriol of marital decay.

Using the revolve and the helix, Armfield manipulates and positions the players in this bitter domestic break down. Up and down they subtly move, higher then lower, under then above, with unavoidable meetings in chilled silence, until Fricka's dreadful victory kiss is pressed hard onto Wotan's unwilling mouth to be wiped off in disgust with the back of his hand as she ascends in triumph. Magnificent stuff from Jacqueline Dark and Terje Stensvold.

I didn't tell you about a stunning moment in Rheingold where during an 'interlude', the ascent back from Nibelheim I think, Armfield reinforces the horror of what has been happening - Freia helplessly flung over a giant's shoulder; Rheindaughters in dispair at their loss - in chilling 'frozen moments' on the revolve in the vast blackness. This is what we're in for now I thought as the animals were slowly hoisted back up, Wotan slowly climbing up just ahead of them.

But no. The architecture stayed and the serious business of annunciation of death and man-on-man to the death therein was lost. It was for all the world like the set change just didn't happen and the plucky players went about there stuff as best they could regardless. No chills or goosebumps there then. (These thoughts are clarified below in comments.)  (*)

Never mind. Here comes the fun bit, the Ride. Auspiciously, we are back to the look of the beginning of Rheingold. A mass of crumpled bodies, refugees maybe, dying in front of our eyes perhaps, ever so slowly revolving as that music it is impossible to now not associate with Vietnam started up. Now I was really missing that big European sound. Combat gear, like Brünhilde, thinks I. There's a vast black hole is the stage ceiling surrounded by white lights. They'll flash thinks I. We're in Saigon.

Feet appear, legs appear, slowly descending they come, on ... swings! Whatever this music tells you, it's not swings. Good vocals though, and now I'm wondering why it's so good, so forward. It turns out the theatre is acoustically modified (**) and I've no problem with that, I don't think. It certainly hasn't got that creepy directionless sound Adelaide can get. So for all the Ho To Ho'ing and shreiking, these combat girls drop in carefully and cautiously when I wanted risk. I wanted helicopters. Ok, one helicopter. Another million from The Wheelers would have done it. I wanted Apocalypse, Now.

The dead hauled up by the armpits I'll tell you about another time.

So it was left to Susan Bullock, impressing with some lovely controlled exchanges with daddy, and the quite magnificent tireless Terje Stensvold to pull this one off.

Now we had the vast empty black space again, and now Armfield was working some magic. So was the orchestra. It seemed like an eternity, timelessness was on the mountain, and when I thought that that Mr Armfield wasn't going to get me this time, he timed it to perfection and the long delayed contact of Father and Daughter arrived with such a cry of anguish that I broke. So did K, but you'll not hear about that.

(*) The set stayed for the next scene because it is so big it is not possible to change it with a major performance break.

(**) The Guardian reviewer has added that there is no enhancement.


Susan Scheid said...

I'm enjoying your reports. The way you described Skelton's singing brought it to life. Looks like the set at points suffered from Lepage syndrome (as in too much, and malfunctioning, equipment). Too bad about that. And the swings do seem a bit off the mark. It's striking that when the production returned to vast empty black space, there was again magic, as you say. Is there a lesson in that?

wanderer said...

Sue I have to say, while only having seen the Lepage on DVD, there is no similarity at all with what's going on here. This production is (so far) everything that Lepage isn't - meaningful human drama. This is light years ahead.

Perhaps I should revisit and rewrite my comments I think. The Valhalla set is massive, and with good reason - materialised excess - and not for the sake of having something big, but to make the point about the grossness of aggrandisement. It was simply my preference (and no one else's I have met) to have it not there for the next scene, certainly not a malfunction. And it was very effective in the domestic drama, very very. Brilliant actually.

Yes, the black spaces he works well, but not only.

marcellous said...

Changed the title, I see. And there I was feeling just a smidgin less envious.

wanderer said...

Yes, the emphasis was wrong. Resume envy.

Susan Scheid said...

wanderer: Ah, I see what you mean now! Envy resumed here too (really, it never left . . .).