Robert Lepage's new production of Wagner's beloved opera proves to be spellbinding.
As always, music is foremost, and the transcendent Die Walkure score is conducted here by James Levine, who shapes the teasing, tender and taut melodies into a sumptuous whole. He recognizes the motifs presaging Brunnhilde's "Hojotoho" high-C-ending cries and the eventual Walkure ride as the opera's suspense builder and works his baton accordingly.
That third-act ride is an applause-inducing high point in Lepage's production, which uses the same basic set as his earlier production of Das Rheingold, dominated by 24 long, wide, and movable planks pointing towards the auditorium. Lepage and designer Carl Fillion cant the pieces so they seesaw, appearing to be giant horses galloping towards the audience. As Die Walkure begins, Lepage, Fillion, lighting designer Etienne Boucher, and video designer Boris Firquet arrange the planks as a forest through which the pursued Siegmund (Jonas Kaufmann) weaves his way to Sieglinde (Eva-Marie Westbroek the first act, Margaret Jane Wray from then on) and their shared destiny.
The opera's other main concern is whether the incestuous love between Siegmund and Sieglinde will cause Wotan (Bryn Terfel) to accede to the demands of wife Fricka (Stephanie Blythe) and damn Siegmund to a death that results in the demotion of daughter Brunnhilde (Deborah Voigt) from god to mortal.
The god-like performance from Kaufmann during the extended first-act love scene was warm when needed, forceful when heft was called for. His acting equaled it. Neither he nor Westbroek --nearly matching him with vocal persuasion -- intended merely to get the notes right but were constantly aware they were two people finding the love they'd long sought.
Terfel takes on one of opera's most demanding roles and, while filling the tough dramatic requirements, made the assignment seem like a short dash. From first to last, his bass-baritone rang through the hall as if he were chanting it to the hills in his native Wales. And whereas in Das Rheingold, he had a Veronica-lake coiffeur to suggest Wotan's impaired eyesight, now his hair has been pulled back and -- all to the good -- he wears an eye-patch.
Wagner needs robust singing from all, and the substituting Wray supplied it, as did Hans-Peter Konig as Sieglinde's threatening hubby Hunding, all eight Brunnhilde co-riders (Kelly Cae Hogan, Molly Fillmore, Marjorie Elinor Dix, Mary Phillips, Wendy Bryn Harmer, Eve Gigliotti, Mary Ann McCormick, Lindsay Ammann), and especially, the never-misses Blythe, regal in Francois St-Aubin's wide-bodiced green gown.