This week we saw the Washington National Opera‘s performance of Wagner‘s Die Walküre at the Kennedy Center. Or, I should say, we saw most of the production. Despite our best efforts, Wagner defeated us.
Last year, we saw our first Wagner production, Parsifal performed by the Kirov Opera Company, also at the Kennedy Center. As relative novices to the world of opera fandom, we certainly weren’t representative of the usual Wagner-going crowd. We chose Parsifal in order to see the Kirov company perform, as well as for the music itself. Certainly Parsifal is not, erm, the most engaging story ever told on the stage. At that performance, we wavered early on and nearly left at the first intermission: the combined effect of the sonorous score, the slow and dull plot, and being seated behind an entire row of overly perfumed ladies of a certain age almost got the better of us. We rallied, though, and moved to the handicapped seating area, which was thankfully empty. From there, we stayed for the remaining two acts, enjoyed the music, and, in the end, patted ourselves on the back for our dedication and endurance.
Compared to Parsifal, we imagined that attending Die Walküre would be a cakewalk. Well, not quite a cakewalk, but it had a lot more going for it: a more lively score, a more engaging plot, and Plácido Domingo singing Siegmund. All of these bonuses notwithstanding, the sheer length of the performance and extremely slow pacing combined with our end of the week fatigue to mean that we were ready to call it quits midway through. We chose to leave at the second intermission, having seen the stunning sets, heard the famous Domingo, and taken in the excellent performance by the orchestra. We were simply too tired to stay until the end and then face the metro trip home, and we didn’t want to try to slip out in the dark midway through the third act. As a result, we forewent hearing “Ride of the Valkyries” at the beginning of Act Three. The teaser in Act Two, when Brünnhilde first appears to the twins, will have to serve as our experience of hearing the piece performed live.
At this point, I think we’ll get back on the horse with another Verdi (we saw a touring production of La traviata at the Opernhaus Zürich in 1997) or maybe a Puccini, and slowly build up to facing Wagner again. Or, you know, just rest on our laurels with Parsifal and call it a draw.