The Valkyrie, Opera by R. Wagner
Die Walküre, the second of the works that comprise Richard Wagner’s monumental Ring Cycle, is the opera that saw the composer affirm his theory of “Gesamtkunstwerk”, a new way of conceiving and presenting music. In Wagner’s view, humanity could only be set free if the arts came together to create a new form of cultural experience.
How apt then, in drawing on Nordic legend, that he shows the gods to be trapped by their own rules. In Die Walküre, Siegmund and Sieglinde’s illicit love for one another forces their father, Wotan, to slay his own son, and petrify, quite literally, another of his daughters, Brünnhilde; possessing the Ring of the Nibelung drives his actions, but its pursuit risks destroying his family.
In Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola famously appropriated the soaring music that accompanies ‘The Ride of The Valkyries’ to create one of the most iconic scenes in cinema; one can only wonder what Wagner might have invented had the medium of film been available to him. His use of leitmotifs to introduce specific characters is precisely the device employed in our era by John Williams, the foremost composer today for the silver screen.
Premiered at the National Theatre in Munich on 26 June 1870, Die Walküre was not performed as part of the Ring Cycle until the inaugural Bayreuth Festival between 13 and 17 April 1876. Some, concerned with the length of its constituent parts, feared that even music as glorious as Wagner’s would not hold its audience’s attention.
In truth, Die Walküre, which now comes to the Wiener Staatsoper, is an opera that you will never want to end.