What a strange local scene surrounded a mostly very satisfying full production of Die Walküre last night. The main street of Brattleboro, denizened by Valkyries, Norns, bikers, and a variety of head-scratching, slightly annoyed, know-it-all Beckmessers (like me) waiting for the next production, appeared as an exotic foreign land wherein one might have searched for a golden hoard, had so many artisanal storefronts not declared “no cash inside.” Tundi Productions, a cooperative (indeed at the food coop we observed Siegmund heading a table of cooperators during the 90-minute food break between acts one and two) of singers, players and set builders dedicated to the nurturing of big-voiced singers, had invited the townspeople and a Boston critic to the 750-seat, zodiacally classical Latchis Theater for its exuberant “Wagner in Vermont.” The audience looked understated Vermont normal, until the heroes, gods and villains proceeded from their midst down the main aisles. Among many sublime to ridiculous coincidences, we most enjoyed noting a magic fire projection straight out of “Oppenheimer” while “Barbie” (can you believe it?) ran on Screen Two.
Set designer and builder Alan Schneider (he also voiced Siegmund) placed the orchestra of 7/3/3/2 strings plus winds and brass (including three French norns and one tuba) behind a mid-stage scrim. Music Director Hugh Keelen, whom we could see throughout at stage left, gave the downbeat for the prelude. At once we could relax with the knowledge that his scaled-back pit band could handle the essentials of the score with a nice sound in the room. Keelan smoothly underlined the interweaving of leitmotivs and drew shapely sounds including some juicy 19th-century portamenti. Solos from cellist Jacob Omsky and English hornist Jim Sharrock deserve notice. The singers never had to fight to be heard, though some of them sometimes acted like they did. As the four hours progressed, the singers never tired, though some raggedness in the orchestra did ensue. If the orchestral intimations of magic fire sounded wan, the nine Valkyries in surround sound pinned my decibel meter.
From the simplicity of the stage furnishings (a table and chairs, some utilitarian building blocks) we immediately anticipated that Hunding’s hearth in Act 1 would become Brunnhilde’s pyre in Act Three. For props Sieglinde got three cruets, rather tiny wooden bowls, and beakers for water, mead and sleeping potions. Siegmund would get his glinting Notung, and Hunding held a potent spear. For the ash tree we had to rely on suggestions and projections. There were no walls or doors. In subsequent acts good use was made of the wrap-around balconies. Pete Wilson’s moody lighting design seemed to read the minds on stage.
Tundi’s vocalist nurturing made itself manifest in some very fine singing and consistently engaged acting (except for inappropriate late highjinks from the Valkyries). Though some vocal problems testified to the limitations of cooperative support for others, Siegmund (Alan Schneider) and Sieglinde (Katherine Saik DeLugan) acted and sang with certifiable organic chemistry. Schneider’s instrument could project enormous shafts of clear, youthful sonic light, and he could preserve his heroic colorations in any register and dynamic. He put the “Spring Aria” (Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemonde) across as an art song, encouraging the orchestra to follow him down to ravishing pianissimos. DeLugan, one of the many in possession of a house-filling voice last night, cared about bel canto and characterization. She and Schneider created indelible impressions―quite a claim from a writer who last witnessed Walküre at the Met with Jon Vickers and Birgit Nielsen in those roles. Kirk Eichelberger, an appropriately menacing Hunding, needs to develop a bit more command of his resonant and attractive instrument. He tended to bellow a bit too much and rely on his gifts more than technique.
Act Two’s ménage à trois of Brunhilde, Wotan and Fricka devolved into something of a women’s rights guilt trip in the uncredited translation. Mit tiefem Sinne/ willst du mich täuschen, conventionally translated as “With darksome meanings/wouldst thou mislead me?” morphed into the wincingly colloquial “How dare you gaslight me,” as unwanted laughter ensued. If the very butch and exuberant Brunhilde of company director Jenna Rae commanded the stage as a young doe, and blasted out her Hojotohos holding back nothing, she sounded a bit covered in her middle range and forced this vocal groupie to think about technique instead of surrendering to her obvious charms. Sondra Kelly (Fricke) would have chewed the scenery had there been any. She gave the fights of their immortal (or once immortal) lives to Brunhilde and Wotan. And that is saying a lot considering the towering command of the evening’s Wotan, Charles D. Martin. With a shaved head and tattoos, Martin dominated the stage vocally and visually. I took immense pleasure in discovering a Wotan who sounds like the young James Morris, combining beauty of tone with heroic power and immersion in character.
His Act Three interactions with the pleading Brunhilde imbibed deeply of pathos. As he closed the opera with musings profound in voice and manner, we could intuit much of what would follow in the Ring. “To be continued,” the endtitle read.
Thus Siegfried will play the Latchis Thursday night. Tickets HERE.
Lee Eiseman is the publisher of the Intelligencer