Christine Goerke made her stage debut as Brünnhilde last night in Atom Egoyan’s production of Die Walküre at the COC. She didn’t disappoint. It’s a big voice with ringing high notes that ping over the orchestra. No scooping on the high notes either. She’s probably the next great Brünnhilde and that’s probably what last night will best be remembered for. With all the Elektras in her calendar it may also be a a case of “catch it while you can”. The rest of the singing was pretty distinguished too. Johan Reuter was a firm toned, perfectly solid Wotan. Heidi Melton, from beginning to end, was a wonderful Sieglinde to listen to; accurate, sweet of tone (for a dramatic soprano) and almost matching Goerke for power. Clifton Forbis, the Siegmund, still has genuine Helden high notes and was pleasant to listen to. One might have wished for a slightly more ardent approach to the Winterstürme scene but it was more than decent. Dimitry Ivaschshenko was a genuine solid bass Hunding who sounded just right and acted more, and better, than most. Janina Baechle made the most of her cameo as Fricka. The octet of junior Valkyries, made up of mostly younger singers, injected some youthful vigour into the whole enterprise to good effect. Johannes Debus in the pit impressed as a Wagnerian once more with a tightly structured and, at appropriate points, opulent reading of the score. The COC orchestra, always admirable, as so often last night pulled out their best for Johannes. So, admirable music making.
The production, and the acting to support it, didn’t really match up to the music making. A single set is used throughout. There’s a pile of rubble with a sawn up Ygdrassil at centre stage and over it is a very complex lighting gantry (ironically really as there is very little lighting). At times, images of Valhalla appear at the back of the stage. Most of the time the set is very dark and the blocking is pretty static. Add monochrome costumes (the three principal ladies look they’ve escaped from a Queen Victoria lookalike competition) and it adds up to pretty dull a lot of the time. The dominant mode is “park and bark” from front centre stage. IIn some ways it feels like it was designed to overcome the acoustic limitations of the O’Keefe Centre where it first played. There are some effective moments. Brünnhilde’s appearance too Siegmund is quite dramatic and the third act generally brightens things up; literally and figuratively. The youthful energy, and actual movement, injected by the Valkyries is a welcome tonic. But, in the last analysis, too many big moments, e.g. the drawing of Nothing, go for naught and chemistry in the key partnerships isn’t what it could be. Lepage’s production in New York may have had its mechanical drawbacks but the Kaufmann/Westbroek and Terfel/Voigt pairings showed how one could create real emotional chemistry in the crucial pairings. In a lot of ways Egoyan’s Walküre reminded me of the old Moshinsky Peter Grimes at Covent Garden; great singers shambling around in the dark with little sense of drama. A lot of people loved that production and I guess a lot will be very happy with this one.
Go for the music. Go for the chance to see Goerke. But expect to have to cut the staging some slack. Wagner’s Die Walküre runs at the Four Seasons Centre until February 22nd. Tickets are available here.
Photo credits: Michael Cooper