Quick: Think of a scene from an opera. If you’re not particularly an opera fan, what probably just leapt into your mind was the image of a zaftig woman wearing a horned helmet and a bronze breastplate, brandishing a spear. The “fat lady” of whom it is proverbially said that it ain’t over until she sings is, of course, a Valkyrie named Brünnhilde, and the opera that features her tragic tale is Die Walküre. Scheduled for a high-definition simulcast this Saturday at the Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC) in Kingston, it’s the second installment of Richard Wagner’s magnum opus based on Norse mythology, Der Ring des Nibelungen.
Productions of the epic-scale Ring cycle are notoriously complex and cumbersome to stage, what with all the giants, dragons, mermaids, dwarves, magical objects and cataclysmic natural disasters called for in the script – not to mention a literal deus ex machina descending every time the narrative needs a little kick in the butt to move forward. So even as well-heeled an institution as New York’s Metropolitan Opera only gets around to mounting a new version every quarter-century or so. And each new production has to offer some new twist to justify its existence, while not alienating the purists (sometimes irreverently dubbed Wagnerheads or Ring nuts) too much.
This season, the Met under the direction of James Levine has met the challenge head-on with brand-new, high-tech visual conceptualizations, first of Das Rheingold last fall and currently of Die Walküre. The innovative set design by Cirque du Soleil veterans Robert Lepage and Carl Fillion has all the New York City culture vultures talking: It features a complicated midair platform that at first glance calls to mind the giant piano keyboard on which Tom Hanks danced in Big. The “keys” are wooden planks, aligned like vertebrae and triangular in cross-section, that can be rotated around a central axis – which itself can be raised or lowered to a variety of heights – to create different-shaped perches for various characters in the operas. Lighting effects are high-tech as well, triggered by a highly interactive computer program that factors in the sounds and body movements of the singers.
While all signs point to the current production providing a stunning visual spectacle, the proof of the pudding is in the music itself, and the scuttlebutt is that this unusual stage set provides an excellent acoustic setting for the voices. The production features an exceptional cast of Wagnerian singers, most of whom are singing their roles for the first time at the Met. Deborah Voigt stars in her first-ever performances of Brünnhilde: her sixth Wagner heroine at the Met, where her repertory has included Sieglinde in Die Walküre, Elsa in Lohengrin, Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, Isolde in Tristan und Isolde and Senta in Der Fliegende Holländer. Also performing are Bryn Terfel, in a North American role debut, as Brünnhilde’s disapproving father Wotan; Stephanie Blythe as Fricka, the queen of the gods; Eva-Maria Westbroek, in her Met debut, and Jonas Kaufmann, in his role debut, as the long-separated twins Sieglinde and Siegmund; and Hans-Peter König makes his Met role debut as Sieglinde’s jealous husband Hunding.
The broadcast this Saturday, May 14 of “The Met: Live in HD” production of Wagner’s Die Walküre at UPAC starts at 12 noon. Seats go for $23 general admission, $21 for Bardavon members and $16 for children age 12 and under. Tickets are available at the Bardavon box office at 35 Market Street in Poughkeepsie, (845) 473-2072; at the UPAC box office at 601 Broadway in Kingston, (845) 339-6088; and via TicketMaster at (800) 745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com. For further information, visit www.bardavon.org.
Also, don’t forget that the Bardavon’s “Lunch & Learn program” continues this Saturday: Prior to each HD opera broadcast, ticketholders are invited to enjoy a prix fixe three-course lunch followed by a talk on the production by Leslie Gerber, longtime WDST classical deejay, music teacher at Marist College’s Center for Lifetime Studies and author of all Hudson Valley Philharmonic Playbill liner notes. Frank Guido’s Little Italy, located at 14 Thomas Street in Kingston, hosts the lunches for UPAC broadcasts. Please call the restaurant directly at (845) 340-1682 to make reservations.