The second instalment of Patrice Chéreau’s 1980 Bayreuth Ring cycle is set, like Das Rheingold, in a sort of industrial bourgeois late 19th century. One would almost say steampunk if that were not an anachronism. Actually the “industrial” side is much less evident than in the earlier work. There’s a sort of astrolabe/pendulum thing in Valhalla but that’s about it. Setting aside, the story telling is very straightforward; so much so that it takes a real effort of the imagination to get into a mindset where this production could ever have been considered controversial. It’s quite literal; Brünnhilde has a helmet and breast and back plates (worn over a rather severe grey dress), Wotan has a spear, Siegmund has a sword. There’s not an assault rifle or light sabre to be seen. It is though dramatically effective.
Act 1 is set in a rather grand neo-classical hall with a realistic tree in the middle. It’s an effective backdrop for some really fine singing and acting. The chemistry between Jeannette Altmeyer’s Sieglinde and Peter Hofmann’s Siegmund is excellent and Matti Salminen makes a convincingly menacing Hunding. There’s really passion and fine ardent singing culminating in a terrific Winterstürme. It all makes a pretty convincing case for this being one of the finest acts in all of opera.
Act 2 is also strong. Hannah Schwarz continues as a very dignified and finely wrought Fricka. Gwyneth Jones is both convincingly girlish and slightly sinister as Brünnhilde, singing with strong and steady tone. Even Donald McIntyre’s Wotan is an improvement on Das Rheingold. It’s not that he is any more regal. He isn’t. It’s that his introspective, depressed even, Wotan is quite convincing, if very unconventional. At times, he’s almost speaking the part rather than singing it but, somehow, it works. The Brünnhilde/Siegmund/Sieglinde scene is extremely touching and y, with his shirt off, looks, as well as sounds, heroic. Altmeyer’s portrayal of Sieglnde makes a rather strong case for her as a sufferer from PTSD, which rather makes sense.
Act 3 is set around a ruined castle. Again, it’s fairly straightforward and slightly abstracted. There are no horses but Large throws in a fair bit of smoke at the beginning and the end. Gwyneth Jones has really warmed up by this point and she’s a very fine Brünnhilde indeed. McIntyre does quite well in the big confrontation. He does sound a bit petulant and he can’t really sustain a line but dramatically he’s fairly convincing. Boulez continues with his emphasis on detail rather than grandeur which makes for a rather peculiar Walkürenritt but is quite listenable.
From a video direction and technical point of view this is much the same as Das Rheingold; decent sound but both direction and picture quality having a very 1980s TV feel to them. At least there’s rather less extraneous smoke.