How easy it is, and how unexpected it can be, to have one’s authority undermined. Die Walküre is the opera in which Wotan’s hold on power starts to unravel. He is faced with a double dilemma. First, his wife Fricka, in her role as defender of marriage, prevails on him to “un-defend” the incestuous adultery between two of his children (themselves a product of his own adulteries) in which he has placed his hopes. As well, his favourite daughter, Brünnhilde the Valkyrie (after whom this opera is named) defies him, and then persuades him to moderate the punishment he metes out. Her place in the saga is far from over, his is now severely weakened. And it all happens enfolded in the fantastic music of Wagner, which in this performance conspired to bring everything together beautifully and harmoniously.

Michael Bedjai (Siegmund) © Karl Forster
Michael Bedjai (Siegmund)
© Karl Forster

There was a magic to the chemistry between Michael Bedjai and Brit-Tone Müllertz (Siegmund and Sieglinde). Both have a brilliance in expression that I have rarely encountered. We were treated to two evenly matched voices gradually opening to the other, probing and caressing each other, and finally belonging to each other. Dominik Nekel’s Hunding, too, presented a strong forceful character openly betraying his brutal attitude to Sieglinde – both his mastery of voice as well as his actions displaying it.

There was a beautiful, dreamlike grace to the playing of the Bruckner Orchester as Siegmund and Sieglinde discovered their love for each other. I was not complimentary of their playing in Rheingold. In this Walküre I take it all back. They brilliantly and expressively captured the mood.

There were little things, too, that gave pleasure to this performance. Siegmund’s full throated “Wälse, Wälse!” of abandonment crying out for a sword with which to defend himself, was a forcefully felt paean of passion. Sieglinde naming him Siegmund was sung building tension as the audience eagerly waited on the word – and a sense of rightful satisfaction when she finally pronounced it.

Elena Nebera (Brünnhilde) © Karl Forster
Elena Nebera (Brünnhilde)
© Karl Forster
Act II was set, strangely, as an army command post, with Wotan mingling with his officers, yet finding time for his adorable Brünnhilde. Gerd Grochowski sang the role well, although struggled on his high notes, whereas slight, high-heeled Elena Nebera produced a Brünnhilde who was full of fresh delight. Her voice was full of hope and promise, her singing a joy to her father’s ears... and mine. Not so Fricka (Karen Robertson), in black fur-lined coat, no longer the hausfrau she was in Rheingold, but wearing the mantle of defender of marriage and singing with a confident purpose that brooked no argument. She was in charge indeed, and both her appearance, straight-backed and imperious, and her authoritative voice was so commanding she gave Wotan the round of the table (literally) and ended up sitting in his chair. He complained to Brünnhilde when she replaced Fricka, that he was “the least free of all”, and overturned chairs in frustration. “I am the saddest of all men” he sang as he expressed his dilemma: agreeing to Fricka’s request meant the betrayal of Siegmund’s trust.

But he created a dilemma for Brünnhilde as well. Her meeting with Siegmund had some powerfully emotional singing, but the meeting didn’t go well. There was a struggle of wills sung with a strength and passion that none could ignore. He threatened to run his sword, ‘Nothung’, through his now pregnant Sieglinde. Could she stand by and watch him, or offer to assist him, thus breaking Wotan’s orders to let Hunding prevail? She decided to prevent him killing Sieglinde, and so set up the core of the third act.

This time the famous “hojotojos” of the Ride of the Valkyries which opened Act III were full on for flavour, although restrained in volume. The Valkyries sang united in their concern for the wayward Brünnhilde, but very definite in their refusal to go against Wotan’s wishes. As Sieglinde was sent off towards the east, the orchestra played the beautiful Siegfried leitmotif in a way that ensured we were all aware of what was to come. Grochowski was remarkable as an angry Wotan (one could even say he sang better when he was angry). We were left in no doubt that Brünnhilde was in deep trouble – hard to imagine her as one destined to sit by the fire and spin.

Gerd Grochowski (Wotan) © Karl Forster
Gerd Grochowski (Wotan)
© Karl Forster

Finally, her pleading with Wotan bore limited success; she is, in this production, entombed in a larger-than-life statue of what looked like a sword bearing Valkyrie, while the other Valkyries lit the fires around it. And so the opera concluded... like waiting for a resurrection.