After the excellent "Rheingold", which serves as the entire Niebelungen saga's prologue, "Die Walküre" follows the god Wotan's plan to retrieve the Ring. He must create a pure, independent man who will be able to take the ring from the giant Fafner. But his wife plots against him, and Wotan must forsake his heroes, the lovers Siegmund and Sieglinde, with the hope that they might give birth to a son who will satisfy Wotan's ambitions. He sends one of his Walkyrie daughters, Brüunhilde, to kill the heroes.
The Rings cycle shows its true colors: an elaborate myth of gods and titans conspiring against each other to possess ultimate power, manipulating puny humans to reach their goals. As the machinations of the main characters get more and more complicated, Wagner wisely chooses to leave them in the back-ground, and show how they affect the lives of those they manipulate. By doing this, he not only makes perfect use of the medium of opera, but also brings us rousing moments of romance and emotion. Many claim that the saga's best music lies here. I beg to differ, having a fondness for the bombastic Giants theme and the dark Niebelungen theme. But the music is never less than stellar.
The famed "Ride of the Valkiries" (used to great effect in Apocalypse Now) is the first thing that comes to mind, but Siegmund and Sieglinde's love theme is almost even more powerful, beautifully expressing loneliness, yearning and warmth. James Levine masterfully steers his company of musicians and actors through Wagner's complex opera. As far as the cast is concerned, Brünhilde might be a bit underwhelming, but James Morris again transcends expectation.
Finally, this being a video presentation, one should take time to ponder the visual aspect. After a stellar job on "Das Rheingold", director Brian Large falters slightly, showing us a bit too much of Levine and not enough of the curtain and orchestra during the overture scenes. The staging, though perfect in the first and second acts, is far less inspired in the third act where the Ride of the Valkyries is little more than a disorderly choreography with a less than impressive storm in the background. But these are minor quibbles, and are all corrected in the more dynamic, playful "Siegfried".
This remains the best DVD version of the opera you could hope for: monumental scale, grandiose visuals, perfect sound... A must-have!
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