Friday, May 13, 2011

Poem: "On Watching "Die Walküre" for the First Time"

With LW, I watched on Monday Robert Lepage's Met production of Die Walküre, with James Levine in the conductor stand. My first Wagner music drama. Act One was gripping. Siegmund and Sieglinde, sung affectingly by Jonas Kaufmann and Eva-Maria Westbroek, fell in love as fate decreed for the long-lost brother and sister.

Act Two suffered from too much exposition, exposing Wagner's weakness as a dramatist. Bryn Terfel sang Wotan and Deborah Voigt sang Brünnhilde but neither could save the narrative pace from sagging badly. Stephanie Blythe was a compelling Fricka, Wotan's wife who forced him to keep the sanctity of marriage, and so withdraw his protection from the adulterous (and incestuous) Siegmund when he fought against Sieglinde's husband, Hunding (Hans-Peter König).

Act Three opened with the famous "Flight of the Valkyries." The war goddesses provoked laughter instead of awe, when they rode the cumbersome planks of the rotating platform. The scene looked comically obscene. The scene in which Wotan changed Brünnhilde to human for disobeying him and helping Siegmund was not as moving as it could be. I heard last summer Voigt sing the Countess superbly in Der Rosenkavalier. I find her less compelling as the Valkyrie.

On Watching Die Walküre for the First Time

The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling
     Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.
—Emily Brontë, “Often rebuked, yet always back returning”

I was unmoved by Wotan’s pain,
or by Brünnhilde’s sacrifice.
They’re gods. Who dares to pity gods?

Rather, Sieglinde’s loveless marriage
awakes a fierce and wanton feeling
that beats the sheer walls of the throat

and when her brother, Siegmund, joins
his body to that love-starved thing,
two voices mingling in distress,

you do not wonder why the lovers
open the operatic score,
and lift a victory over the gods.

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