Vivid colors, striking visuals, an ever-changing stage constantly filled with action – Géza M. Tóth's Walküre continues with the imagery of his Rheingold, rather reminiscent of a fantasy video game. Sadly, it falls flat, failing to live up to the dramatic intensity of the music that was well emphasized by a dedicated cast.

Hungarian State Opera: <i>Die Walküre</i> © Attila Nagy
Hungarian State Opera: Die Walküre
© Attila Nagy

Christian Thielemann has recently quipped that the first act of Walküre only really begins when Hunding goes to bed. Tóth seems to share that view, so much, in fact, that he feels the need to invent a whole new narrative, in which a hippie Siegmund somehow frees Sieglinde from her society's consumerism and materialism. A critique of capitalism is certainly not foreign from the Ring, but it's hard to see why it should be voiced in Walküre, and through the relationship of the Wälsungs of all things, rather than in Rheingold, or why this narrative is completely abandoned when it comes to the gods, who are portrayed as semi-fantastical and separate in their actions and fate from men.

Hungarian State Opera: <i>Die Walküre</i> © Attila Nagy
Hungarian State Opera: Die Walküre
© Attila Nagy

Heavy on stunning images and constant action, Tóth employed dancers and projections to create atmosphere and illustrate the events narrated onstage. While the sight of the projections was certainly arresting, they hardly ever felt relevant to the story, let alone neccesary. The concentration on the visuals came at the loss of clearly drawn portrayals and strong Personenregie; resulting in a lot of exaggerated gestures on the singers' part. Hunding was probably the worst case; reduced to a sleazy, boorish thug acting like a cartoon villain. Wotan's weakness felt overemphasized, making him seem like a neurotic on the verge of collapse, hardly capable of commanding much respect (Hunding simply shrugged at his commands of „Geh'!” in the Act 2 finale and walked off). Best of all perhaps was the spirited teenager Brünnhilde, but even her portrayal wasn't consistent throughout.

Thankfully, the quality of the musical performances was much higher. Under the baton of Péter Halász, the orchestra played with gripping intensity, never letting the music drag and the audience's attention wander. Halász drew an incredibly lush sound from the strings and bright blazing from the brass, but payed great attention that the orchestra would not overpower the singers.

Judit Németh © Attila Nagy
Judit Németh
© Attila Nagy
The best singers of the evening were Tomasz Konieczny and Linda Watson. Konieczny's inky, stentorian bass-baritone thundered over the orchestra, providing the neccesary authority for Wotan that the staging failed to do so and portraying the god's frustration with great sensitivity - especially memorable was his deeply emotional Abschied for its utmost gentleness. As his daughter, Watson sang with breathtaking ease (flying through the Hojotoho! cries as if they were nothing) and a luscious sound, in complete command of her voice and the role, most touching in her interactions with Wotan.

István Kovácsházi brought a clean, powerful voice to Siegmund, singing with an appropriate mix of sensitivity and thrilling heroism (his „Wälse!” cries shook the house), although he tended to turn unpleasantly nasal at times. Eszter Sümegi's diction leaves some room for improvement, but her warm, round soprano is ideal for Sieglinde and she sang with great security and commitment, providing one of the musical highlights of the evening as her blooming voice floated effortlessly over the orchestra in „O hehrstes Wunder!”. Andreas Hörl's dark timbre and booming voice saved some of the menace of Hunding otherwise completely undermined by the staging. Judit Németh was a formidable Fricka with an appropriately earthy, domineering voice. The Valkyries, all from the house ensemble, blended well and sang with great vigour.

The Hungarian State Opera's recent efforts to start employing more daring directors and staging more adventurous productions are certainly commendable – I just hope they will be more sensitive and trusting to the story and the music than Géza M. Tóth proved to be.

**111