Full-Scale Wagner Returns to Europe With a Refugee-Theme ‘Walküre’

Full-Scale Wagner Returns to Europe With a Refugee-Theme ‘Walküre’

As in many of his productions, there is also a reference to past opera stagings, in this case Patrice Chéreau’s influential 1976 “Ring” at the Bayreuth Festival, which posited the cycle as a Marxian struggle in which the world moves from aristocratic to proletarian rule. The final evening ended with shellshocked masses standing in rubble, staring at the audience as if to say, “Your turn.” One possible interpretation of Mr. Herheim’s new production, he suggested, is that those people, or their descendants, had moved on and were now retelling the story.

The sets for all four operas will be mainly constructed from the piano, the suitcases and their contents, enhanced by projections and video. “They all have their suitcases, their histories, their stories,” Mr. Herheim said of the characters. “It’s not ever the quality of theater to create perfect illusion. This is in some way a childish and simple approach. As if the only thing we have left as humans is this ability to tell stories — this idea of reality, history, hope, future.”

Not that Mr. Herheim is naïve about the uses to which humans have put stories, especially ones as powerful and troubling as Wagner’s epic myth. “‘Walküre’ is an incredibly cruel piece,” he said, pointing out the extent to which the characters are trapped by their destinies and actions. Wotan, the patriarchal god who loses control of his creation, seemed to loom especially large in his mind.

“It’s the greed,” Mr. Herheim said, “and the power, and the need to be loved by an audience.” Like a conductor, he jokingly suggested, or a stage director.

For the singers, the rigor of Mr. Herheim’s concept is mediated by his musicality. “It’s been very intense, which I like,” said Ms. Stemme, the production’s Brünnhilde. “The work is very concentrated, and at the same time he never forces you to sing upstage or sideways” in ways that might damage the music.

“The main thing for him is the music drama,” she added, “and that’s the way it should be.”

Lise Davidsen, a rising star soprano, is making her role debut as Sieglinde, a mortal woman, trapped in a violent and loveless marriage with the hunter Hunding. She finds short-lived redemption in an affair with Siegmund — incidentally, her twin brother — before he dies and she gives birth to Siegfried, a transformative hero in the two final operas.

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