Last fall, Virginia Opera took to Topgolf locations in Richmond and Virginia Beach to perform “Das Rheingold,” with actors dressed as professional golfers standing in for the gods, giants and dwarves usually associated with Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle. This week, they’re taking us to a galaxy far, far away with “The Valkyrie.”
Where the unique staging of “Rheingold” was a way to accommodate audience members who wished to socially distance in a semi-outdoor space during an earlier part of the pandemic, Virginia Opera’s “Valkyrie” is returning to the theater to deliver a message about environmentalism and the dangers of technology.
“[We’re] taking a very interesting new approach to it and a concept that looks at humankind on this planet, and this big metaphor of power and its distancing from nature,” says Joachim Schamberger, director of “Valkyrie.”
Based on Norse mythology, the second installment of Wagner’s Ring cycle defies an easy summation, but deals in crafty gods, brave heroes and magical swords.
“It’s just a story that’s incredibly captivating, and, like any mythology, is deeply rooted in our psychology,” Schamberger says. “If you think of Jungian psychology and the archetypes, this is very much what these stories are, and it’s also something [that our production] will use, tapping into those images that we collectively somehow all know.”
- Dave Pearson Photography
- Richard Trey Smagur as Siegmund and Meghan Kasanders as Sieglinde.
“Valkyrie” portrays the increasing creep of the digital world into the natural one, represented by the gods; Wotan, the ruler of the gods, is a cyborg with a bionic eye.
“Our ring deals with the exploration of the dichotomy of analog versus digital realms and how that’s effecting humanity, how it effects nature, how it effects our own nature as human beings and our experience in the world,” says Adam Turner, conductor and Virginia Opera’s artistic director. “This production deals with artificial intelligence and the idea of humans being influenced by digital devices and distractions and enhancements. What happens in the process of this synthesis with the digital world? Do we lose a piece of our humanity, or do we become more godly in some respects, or superhuman?”
For the musicians involved, Turner says it’s a heavy lift.
“Wagnerian-style singing and playing from the orchestra is virtuosic, and it requires a different approach than Mozart or Puccini,” he says. “The music is, at times, bombastic and loud and maybe even aggressive, and then there are these really tender, emotional, expressive moments, intimate in scope, chamber music-like. The orchestra is an active participant in the drama happening on the stage.”
Turner lauds the singers for their vocal prowess in tackling Wagner.
“It’s daunting, no doubt, but I will say, because of the sheer nature of what my voice is, I sort of have a habit of taking on these daunting roles,” says soprano Alexandra Loutsion, who plays Wotan’s daughter Brünnhilde. “In opera, the roles that you sing are determined by your voice. You don’t really, in some ways, have much of a choice in that matter. For me, my voice developed into this sort of big-voice dramatic soprano.”
Even for opera newcomers, “Ride of the Valkyries” should be recognizable for its prevalence in pop culture, including the helicopter raid in “Apocalypse Now” and the “Kill the Wabbit” portion of the Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc?”
“When you hear it with incredible voices, it really packs a punch,” Turner says. “Buckle your seatbelt.”
- Dave Pearson Photography
- Kyle Albertson as Wotan (and we gotta say, looking a little like Josh Brolin as the Terminator making a grand entrance at a Halloween party).
While the full “Valkyrie” has a running time of nearly four hours, Loutsion says this version has been slimmed down to its essence.
“You get the highlights of this piece, and it’s a great introduction to this type of music,” she adds.
Turner says the show will have added appeal to fans of recent TV shows and movies that deal with mythology and mystical characters.
“If you’re a fan of any of these epic things that people binge watch – ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘The Hunger Games,’ ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy – you’ll find a way in,” Turner says, noting that Virginia Opera will tackle the last two operas of Wagner’s Ring cycle in the next two seasons. “This kind of singing, orchestral playing, storytelling – to experience that in person is so much more important that sitting at home and watching Netflix over the weekend. It really needs to be experienced in person.”
Virginia Opera’s “The Valkyrie” runs Oct. 14 and 16 at the Dominion Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 600 E. Grace St., 23219. For more information, visit vaopera.org or call 866-673-7282.