VALKYRIE • LA MONNAIE
REVIEW VALKYRIE: CASTELLUCCI THRILLS AT LA MONNAIE
Italian star director Romeo Castellucci continues to surprise at the iconic La Monnaie in Brussels, where the second part of his bold interpretation of The Ring thrilled a sold-out audience.
Castellucci is not afraid to go to the edge, and perhaps a little beyond, with his radical extemporizations of classic operatic material. His take on Valkyrie is no exception.
Normally, Siegmund pulls an enchanted sword out of a tree trunk, but that’s not enough for Castellucci, who has our heroic tenor pull the sword out of Sieglinde (!) and place it in a refrigerator that has been brought on stage in the meantime.
Sieglinde offers herself on the stage floor, after which Siegmund covers her with loads of flowers, sweet words and warm hugs.
The more they revel in each other, the more they get covered in their shared blood, which soon spills all over the simple costumes. A scene that turns into a visual blood-red scoop on the white background.
The siblings are satisfactorily portrayed by Peter Wedd and Nadja Stefanoff, and Alain Altinoglu pulls a roaring Wagner out of the orchestra, which momentarily suffers a bit from blurred brass.
With simple means, Castellucci demonstrates his flair for sharply cut, graphic stage design that both amazes and conceptualizes.
Previously, a somewhat anonymous Hunding has presented itself in the form of an enormous crow with menacing claws, and has since gone to sleep (in a wooden living room cabinet).
Wotan (a perhaps too soft and empathetic Gabor Bretz) comes on stage after the first break, accompanied by his wife Fricka (Marie-Nicole Lemieux), who is also the goddess of marriage.
She enters with a terrific entourage in a gloriously over-the-top mix of wedding dresses, nun’s robes and dozens of white doves that fly merrily around the singers if they don’t land on their hands or heads.
I know as little about pigeons as I do about tractor tires, and I don’t understand why the many pigeons don’t fly out to the audience until I’m later informed that an invisible net is fooling me.
It’s a magnificent sight, and Fricka even strangles a few of them with her bare hands to emphasize her dissatisfaction with the unseemly Siegmund/Sieglinde relationship, which she orders Wotan to end.
The rest of this middle section seems strangely under-executed on a black background with a misty illuminated sword floating freely above it all, and despite great vocal performances, stands as the least strong of the evening.
The ending gets a macabre twist after the murder of Siegmund, when a hanged wolf (AKA Siegmund’s ghost) suddenly dangles from the ceiling.
There is plenty of action, however, as the Valkyrie Ride opens Act 3.
A handful of ninja-clad Valkyries in all black with black shields drag a dozen naked warrior corpses onto the stage. And to make sure it’s not a lie, nine large, jet-black, live Friesian horses are dragged in, where they stride around alertly but majestically, several of them carrying more corpses from the battlefield for the collection of heroes to take to Valhalla.
Stage power in a class of its own, packaged in a very well-presented version of the familiar, swirling Valkyrie theme.
The poignant Wotan-Brünhilde showdown at the end is resolved with great emotion in an understated, graphic setting, with soprano Ingela Brimberg particularly impressive and the La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra showing their class.
I spoke with Castellucci himself shortly before the performance about expectations for this high-profile staging of the difficult no. 2 after the great reception of the Rhine Gold in October 2023. (Read the review here.)
He told me that it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Just follow the text! Wagner’s text is so mindblowingly surreal that you just have to execute things as they are described.
Having said that, he hasn’t been able to keep his hands off a lot of extemporizing at his own expense.
– It is part of my CODE that the Valkyrie should be able to FEEL and SMELL, and be more emotional than the Rhine Gold, which I consider to be more monumental and less introverted.
When Castellucci came on stage to cheering evocations, it was clear that his creative approach had resonated.
Five stars from GOT TO SEE THIS for another deeply original production from the Italian maestro.