In 'The Ring Cycle' so far, we’ve watched and wondered from afar as gods, nature spirits, giants and dwarfs schemed and disputed. It’s been a chess game of outrageous acts, counterstrokes and political maneouvering, and few sympathetic characters.
But there are new elements in The Valkyrie that make it perhaps the best-loved of the Ring cycle operas: the involvement of human beings, and the addition of exalted, transformative love.
This is the other emotional pole that supports the action.
The Valkyrie takes the set-up from events in The Rheingold, and moves it forward to a point where you can sense the final resolution that will be reached two operas later, at the close of Götterdämmerung – The Twilight of the Gods.
There’s about 20 minutes of such glorious music at the end of Valkyrie that you could retire fulfilled without braving the head-spinning plot complexities of Siegfried and Götterdämmerung.
The Valkyrie’s structure is reasonably tidy and easy to grasp: Act One focuses on the human lovers Siegmund and Sieglinde.
Act Two is a bit more complex: We move to the gods Wotan, his wife Fricka and his daughter Brunnhilde, before returning to the human lovers who must confront first Brunnhilde and then Wotan.
Act Three goes back to the world of the gods as Wotan and Brunnhilde struggle with the aftermath of their encounter with the human lovers, and the wholly unforeseen rebellion it engendered. Thus the fate of gods and humans become bound into one story as Wotan farewells his much-loved daughter.
Erica Challis takes us through the story and music of the second of Wagner's epic four Ring Cycle operas.