Melbourne Opera: Die Walküre [Bendigo 2023]

Bountiful artistic and musical quality continues apace in the second instalment of the Melbourne Opera Bendigo Ring Cycle, as much loved opera Die Walküre takes flight. 

Having premiered in Melbourne a year ago, the production is seen at its best here, gleaming under a loving polish of final preparation. Tweaks to the original casting have also paid off handsomely, with the tight ensemble cast filled with top flight Australian performers.

Returning to the Ulumbarra Theatre brings the chance to reflect on the intimacy of the venue. Any Ring Cycle is a costly venture, and, as such, they are usually performed in capacious theatres. With under 1000 seats, and surely not a bad sight-line in the house, the Ulumbarra allows an all too rare connection of intimacy between performers and audience. Wonderful acoustics complete the connection, allowing singers to be freely and clearly heard over the massive orchestra. 

And what an orchestra. At Her Majesty’s last year, there as a slight sense that maestro Anthony Negus needed to be sympathetic with volume to ensure the singers were heard. Here, Negus draws the full range of dynamics from the musicians, resulting in a beautifully expressive and engaging musical performance. 

Arguably the best known opera in The Ring Cycle, Die Walküre shifts from the rapturous, albeit incestuous, romance of act one to the power plays of the Gods in act two, to the thrilling arrival of the Valkyries, set to a now-iconic musical accompaniment. 

With time having passed since the events of Das Rheingold, Wotan has fathered twins Sieglinde and Siegmund. The pair meets one wintry night and love swiftly blossoms, despite her marriage to Hunding. Wotan sends daughter Brünnhilde to intervene but she spares Siegmund, earning her father’s almighty wrath. 

Director Suzanne Chaundy continues her focus on the powerful human emotions at the heart of Wagner’s extraordinary creation. Tricks and traps are few, allowing full attention to be paid to the captivating spectrum of characters. The emotional connection this cultivates is sure to continue to pay dividends as the cycle proceeds. 

Andrew Bailey’s set design begins with ingeniously conceived set pieces that create the cabin walls whilst also evoking the curved ring line of the main backdrop. The grand Ash tree is featured centre stage in the cabin, before flying out in a nifty coup de theatre as act two begins and we are transported back to the realm of the heavens. 

Having crafted a stylised rock formation for act three, Bailey and lighting designer deliver another spectacular ending, with Brünnhilde perilously encircled by a billowing ring of blazing fire.

A highlight of Harriet Oxley’s costumes are the outfits worn by godly pair Wotan and Fricka, both sporting hand-painted robes with a glossy abstract metallic design.

Act one of Die Walküre features swoonworthy music as extensive expressions of passion are made. Transformed from roles in Das Rheingold (which played less than 48 hours earlier), Lee Abrahmsen (Sieglinde) and James Egglestone (Siegmund) are in peak form as the twins-turned-lovers, making absolutely glorious music together and deservedly earning extended enthusiastic applause at the act one curtain. 

Abrahmsen and Egglestone deliver again in act two, with Egglestone impressing mightily as Siegmund essentially pleads with Brünnhilde for his life. Abrahmsen garners full sympathy in act three, with her Sieglinde a broken woman following the dispatch of her beloved Siegmund. 

The sonorous bass of Adrian Tamburini instantly conjures the dark soul of Hunding, disdainful husband of Sieglinde. 

In terrific form, Sarah Sweeting rises to the meatier material of Die Walküre. As the enraged and emboldened Fricka practically tears shreds from long unfaithful husband Wotan, Sweeting pours forth with Fricka’s simmering rage, singing with innate technicality and gleaming silver tone. 

Warwick Fyfe continues in stellar form as Wotan. Fyfe’s finely controlled vocal power allows the orchestra to swell to full volume in dramatic moments while Fyfe remains clearly heard. 

Fyfe is joined this time by Antoinette Halloran as dear daughter Brünnhilde. By turns girlish, girded, and gallant, Halloran captures the full dilemma of Brünnhilde being swayed by Siegmund’s devotion and going against her father’s wishes. Brunnhilde’s decision is another climactic moment heard at full orchestral volume with Halloran soaring above it all. 

As the Valkyrie storm the stage, the vocal performance is boosted by the first sequence of ensemble singing, with a luxurious set of eight highly accomplished singers taking the roles. Oxley gifts each Valkyrie a distinctive look whilst still maintaining a sense of uniformity to the group as a whole. A pair of silver-clad sway pole artists completes the impressive picture. 

After Wotan dismisses the Valkyrie, the remainder of the opera is devoted to Wotan’s punishment of Brünnhilde, a concept that neither enjoys. Such is the scope of Wotan’s role here that the performance becomes something of a recital for Fyfe, and he certainly seizes the opportunity to deliver a superb performance, perfectly supported by the love, pride, and vulnerability emanating from Halloran’s Brünnhilde. In Fyfe’s capable hands, Wotan progresses from furious to stony cold with gnawing tenderness just below the surface. When Wotan finally cracks and embraces his beloved daughter, the combination of Fyfe and Halloran’s partnership results in a deeply moving finale. 

Die Walküre displays the depth of what is being achieved by the creative team, singers, and  musicians in this Ring Cycle. For the final two operas, next weekend cannot come soon enough.

The Ring Cycle plays at Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo on select dates in March and April 2023. 

For tickets to The Ring Cycle, click here.

The Ring Cycle casting can be read online.

For details of the Ring Cycle Festival, click here.

To download the program to the Ring Cycle Festival, click here

Man in Chair reviewed the Melbourne Opera 2022 premiere of Die Walküre.

In the 2023 Bendigo Ring Cycle, Man in Chair has reviewed:

Das Rheingold

Photos: Robin Halls

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