There were boos last night at the Bavarian State Opera's Die Walküre. But not at the end.
As at the production's recent premiere, a large section of the audience were quick to make their feelings known about director Andreas Kriegenburg's addition of a silent prologue to Act 3.
Kriegenburg can't give us the real thing - nobody can - but his solution is the best one I've seen so far. His provocative prologue, wrongly described in every review I've seen as a 'Valkyrie ballet', is in fact a thundering herd of horses. Skilfully impersonated by long-haired dancers in silver minis and clumping boots, they toss their manes and stomp their hooves, straining at their reins and primed for action in a way all horse-lovers will recognise. Sadly, some people's patience was tried by just thirty seconds of this magnificent build-up, and the booing began.
Just as clever as the prologue was his use of the horse-dancers to play out the actions the Valkyries describe, paired off panto-style. Most directors ignore these specifics and make do with a bit of rein-shaking. Halfway through the Munich Ring, I've been impressed so far at how closely Kriegenburg has stuck to and illustrated the text.
I'd already seen this in the previous evening's Das Rheingold, and particularly in the wonderful Nibelheim transformation scene. When Alberich turns himself into a dragon, the stage goes dark except for a handful of flashlights at the front. A flaming rope is borne in on sticks, bobbing and weaving like a Chinese paper dragon. That sort of effect is almost impossible to capture in a photo, though the one below gives some idea (in reality all you could see were the lights and vague outlines of figures).
I was even more enchanted by Alberich's next transformation. More darkness, and then a tiny green-painted woman/child appeared, crouching frog-like in the dim light. The sturdy Johan Reuter (Wotan) had no trouble picking it up and carrying it off like a disobedient pet.
The flaming rope trick clearly appeals to Kriegenburg. It reappeared in Die Walküre as the ring of fire girding Brünnhilde's rock - again carried in aloft by a stream of extras (photo below). It's simple, but the clever lighting and uncluttered direction turn it into a little piece of stage magic.
I'll write more about this Ring cycle when I've seen more - like all great productions, it seems so far that each episode casts light on the others. The visual effects are by no means the whole story, but they're so ingenious they deserve some attention of their own.
"Our DSO to Go app has not only helped our live webcasts reach tremendous success around the globe, but has been an accessible sales channel for many first-time concertgoers without prior ticket or contribution history."