Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 November 2019

Review: Music is the star of the show in Bayreuth Festival’s latest take on Die Walküre

Showing a silent film to help tell the story Richard Wagner’s opus may be a nifty idea, but it failed to match the intensity of the brilliant music and voices on stage

 Bayreuth Festival brings a new version of Richard Wagner's The Valkyrie to Abu Dhabi. Picture courtesy of Abu Dhabi Classics
 Bayreuth Festival brings a new version of Richard Wagner's The Valkyrie to Abu Dhabi. Picture courtesy of Abu Dhabi Classics

Technology is increasingly becoming part of performance. The region saw this as Mary Poppins flew around Dubai Opera during the show’s big selling run last year, and when the Arab world’s first hologram concert, featuring late Egyptian diva Umm Kulthum, sung on stage last week in Saudi Arabia.

Yet, the world of opera, with its rich history and artistic dogmas, has been relatively resistant to such tech adventure. Sure, cameras are allowed to tape screenings to be shown elsewhere, a little conductor-cam is also available for fans who like that sort of thing. But the idea of such an immense character, say Die Walküre’s War God Wotan, gliding around the stage delivering dictums from the roof of the hall is another thing entirely.

That said, the question of how technology can aid opera’s development is worth asking.

A new approach

Speaking of, Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) has been pushed forward by Katherine Wagner’s latest take on her great grandfather’s 1870 seminal work, which staged its first of two performances yesterday at Emirates Palace. The production is a landmark moment for the Wagner family’s Bayreuth Festival. Run under the auspices of the annual event, the show marks the first time Bayreuth Festival has travelled from its home in Germany. And to mark the occasion, which was part of Abu Dhabi Classics, Die Walküre was screened in a totally new multi-media format.

Instead of intensely detailed stage design, which requires a dynamic fully functioning opera stage – which Emirates Palace isn’t – Wagner used a specially commissioned silent film to showcase Die Walküre's multi-existential setting, which includes both modern and higher worlds. The film runs simultaneous to the musical performances.

The film has actors playing major roles, such as the brother and sister Sigmund and Sieglinde, the father and war-God Wotan and Sieglinde's husband Hunding.

While the actors do all the heavy physical work – which includes a Harried Sigmund running through the forest to arrive at Hunding’s residence – the singers on the stage give them a voice.

All of this would be deeply impressive if the film was up to scratch. Unfortunately, under David Kasperovski's direction, the visuals were prosaic at best and failed to match the intensity of Wagner’s propulsive score and the brilliant vocalists on stage.

Another sticking point was the lack of subtitles accompanying either the film or the live action. I suppose the whole idea was for the film to tell the story, but with over 5,000 untranslated words of lyrics, it would have been impossible for the silent actors to capture the intensity of the betrayal, lust and family rejections coursing throughout the production. Coupled with its near five hour running time – including two intermissions - this is a production only suited to the most seasoned of opera-goers.

The music remains sublime

That said, if you are willing to stick it out, there are rewards. A lot of this is down to uniformly excellent performances from all vocalists. Wotan’s anger and fury, as both a God disobeyed and father betrayed, comes through in both Egilis Silins’s deep baritone and his commanding stage presence.

While soprano Daniela Kohler is exquisite as Sieglinde. She vocally captures her character’s transformation from damsel in distress to a resilient mother-to-be.

The vocal fireworks arrive when all eight Valkyrie sisters take the stage. The scene in which they plead to vengeful father Wotan to spare their sister is hair raising in its intensity.

Powered by Wagner’s score, which touches upon a wide assortment of human emotions, particularly in the production’s signature and brass fueled Ride of the Valkyries, the affair ends in satisfying conclusion.

Perhaps this is down to the intensity and epic nature of the work, but the final scene where Wotan banishes his daughter brought a lump to my throat – and, looking around, it seems a lot of the audience was emotional during this moment.

Credit goes to Wagner for bringing such a production to Abu Dhabi. She and her team did an admirable job of recreating a mammoth production and showing it to new audiences.

As for those attending Friday night’s last performance, my advice is to read a detailed synopsis of the production beforehand, to wear comfortable clothes, and, most importantly, to revel in all the Teutonic drama.

The Bayreuth Festival’s Die Walkure takes place at Emirates Palace on Friday at 6pm. Tickets are from Dh200 and are available at www.ticketmaster.ae

Updated: January 31, 2019 05:23 PM

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