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If you see one opera this season, make it the Washington Opera’s production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walkure. There are very few occasions when you will find unbeatable singing and acting matched with a director of vision and a conductor at his very best. This is pure magic.
First honors must go to Placido Domingo singing the role of Siegmund. Domingo’s personal charisma infuses every role with a keen virtuosity and his portrayal of Siegmund is no exception. A powerful and highly crafted actor, Domingo pulls us immediately into the pathos of his character. Opera has never been known for its realism and to watch this great artist perform is to simultaneously experience the emotion of the drama and appreciate his mastery of the “language” of the opera stage.
And to hear him sing Wagner is a rare treat. There are many moments when it pays to simply shut ones eyes and listen to his mesmerizing tenor weave over and through the music. Thanks to conductor Heinz Fricke, these moments glide by in seamless ebbs and tides — much like the ever-changing images haunting the stage backdrop. Yes, Die Walkure is a long opera (and yet just one segment of the marathon Ring Cycle), but it is sheer bliss to listen to Domingo, and the other cast members for that matter, sing in such long fascinating, uninterrupted interludes. Though it must be said that Domingo’s voice can now at times evidence a wisp of strain, his overall power remains fully intact.
But the accolades only start with Domingo. The rest of this cast is stellar. Siegmund’s love interest (and yes, egad, his sister), Sieglinde, is sung by the wondrous soprano Anja Kampe, who brings a fresh tenderness to the role. Kampe’s voice has a richness and strength to it and her emotional vocal instinct is truly accomplished.
Alan Held as Wotan and Elena Zaremba as Fricka, the married gods thrashing at each other in a battle of wills, round out this amazing cast. Bass-baritone Held is vocally and visually riveting. Thanks to the careful conception of director Francesca Zambello and Held’s focus, we go from the mortal world of Siegmund and Sieglinde to the immortal world without losing even an ounce of dramatic tension or emotional momentum. Mezzo-soprano Zaremba then presents us with a truly memorable Fricka. With dazzling understatement, she emanates the tortured and now twisted soul of the betrayed wife.
And Fricka’s arrival coincides with just one example of the creative use of the DAR surrounds. With cinematic flair her entrance and exit in the first act is juxtaposed with giant slow-action projections of her troubled face. Perhaps in less talented hands, this could have been rather too obvious, but here it is sublime.
The only slightly weak link in this illustrious cast is Linda Watson’s lead Walkure, Brunnhilde. She has the task of bringing us the famous battle cry “Ho-Jo-To-Ho.” I suppose that’s a lot of pressure, but she doesn’t quite have the gravitas to carry it off either vocally or physically. Watson’s ability to convince us of Brunnhilde’s supernatural powers and battle prowess comes and goes. Yet, in the grand scheme of this tremendous production, this is small potatoes.
The final word, however, has to be about conductor Fricke. Hidden away somewhere behind the stage, he delivers Die Walkure to us in all its glory. Fricke is in many ways the jewel in the crown of the Washington Opera.