The rotating turntable set remains an impressive aspect of the revived Oper Frankfurt Ring. In the first act of Die Walküre, as Siegmund flees from his enemies, the set is covered with fine white snow steadily falling from the sky. Later in the act, the rings of the set are illuminated in brown hues, and together with thin black lines on them, the set transforms itself into a giant tree rim from which Siegmund retrieves the sacred sword. In between, the dark basement under the elevated set that was the Niebelheim in Das Rheingold serves as Hunding’s hut.  Olaf Winter’s lighting work is excellent throughout in evoking various moods of the music.  

The Valkyries, Amber Wagner (Sieglinde) and Rebecca Teem (Brünnhilde) © Barbara Aumüller
The Valkyries, Amber Wagner (Sieglinde) and Rebecca Teem (Brünnhilde)
© Barbara Aumüller

Wotan’s Act II monologue separates “the men from the boys”. A devoted Wagnerian relishes every moment of it while others find his retelling of the story long and tedious. The current production ingeniously solves the problem by making the scene a lesson in family genealogy. The set rotates to reveal a black wall with names of characters written in chalk. Wotan, Fricka and Brünnhilde each makes additions and alterations as suited to his/her version. The battle between Siegmund and Hunding takes place on top of the set as it is tilted so its tallest part faces the audience as Sieglinde watches helplessly from the ground. The same high point serves as a platform for the eight Valkyries' battle cry at the beginning of Act III.  

The last scene of the opera, as Wotan surrounds the sleeping Brünnhilde with fire, is stunningly staged, with a ring of flames slowly descending upon the seeing figure on the rising center of the ring. This is probably one of the simplest and yet most visually effective fire scenes ever staged.

James Rutherford (Wotan) and Rebecca Teem (Brünnhilde) © Barbara Aumüller
James Rutherford (Wotan) and Rebecca Teem (Brünnhilde)
© Barbara Aumüller

The quality of singing this evening was somewhat mixed. James Rutherford’s Wotan was in his element, with his rich and booming voice and nuanced acting impressively encompassing the range of the character’s dilemma to create a complete character. Equally excellent was Tanja Ariane Baumgartner as Fricka who made her scene with Wotan a masterclass in inhabiting the role with her penetrating brilliant voice. This Fricka makes a final appearance at the end of Act II, proudly claiming victory over Wotan over the body of Siegmund, a nice directorial touch. 

Frank van Aken (Siegmund) and Amber Wagner (Sieglinde) © Barbara Aumüller
Frank van Aken (Siegmund) and Amber Wagner (Sieglinde)
© Barbara Aumüller
The Wälsung twins, Amber Wagner as Sieglinde and Frank van Aken as Siegmund, were both good actors, and their scenes were realistic and touching. Wagner’s voice has a somewhat dark timbre for a soprano and yet it opened passionately into thrilling high notes at climactic moments. All of Sieglinde’s emotions, love, distress and joy were expressed in her heartfelt performance. Her Siegmund, while he presented a sympathetic portrait of the tragic character and had some good notes, unfortunately lacked the heroic brilliance in voice that one would wish for his big moments. Ain Anger, an experienced Hunding, has grown immensely in the role, and his voice was now both loudly growling as well as subtly menacing.

The eight Valkyrie women all sang with beauty and power, individually and collectively. The standout was Karen Vuong as Gerhilde. It was unfortunate that Rebecca Teem, while singing and acting with good emotional energy, did not exhibit the vocal qualities that make for a successful Brünnhilde: beauty in top, clarity in diction, and vocal authority and subtlety in interacting with various characters, especially in her extended scene with Wotan in Act III.

Sebastian Weigle adopted a rather luxurious tempo in Act I, which worked well in showcasing some good orchestral playing from the winds and cello, and in developing the love of the Wälsungs. He then stepped on the accelerator in Acts II and III, to deliver an appropriately urgent and suspenseful drama. His support for his singers was exemplary, as he gave them plenty of breathing room and controlled orchestral volume as necessary.  

The impressive production, smart stage craft and strong orchestral work were unfortunately not enough to overcome the mixed vocal performance of the evening. Nevertheless, the final moments of the opera, with images and sounds of flames flickering on stage and in the pit, did not fail to stir deep emotion, and I eagerly anticipate the next two operas of the Ring, to be performed next weekend.