Virginia Opera has big plans. In many ways, they’re the biggest plans an opera company can have: mounting Wagner’s Ring cycle.
In 2016, Washington National Opera made news when it joined the growing ranks of American opera companies that have presented the four-opera Ring cycle, which is notorious for its musical and theatrical complexities. And it’s exciting to witness how the smaller Virginia Opera company is approaching that same lofty challenge.
Their approach is both practical and creative.
Wagner’s massive orchestra probably would not come close to fitting in the pits of Virginia Opera’s stages in Norfolk, Richmond, and Fairfax, so conductor and artistic director Adam Turner is using an adaptation of Wagner’s score by British composer Jonathan Dove. This version of the Ring calls for an orchestra about one-quarter the size of the original, and it makes cuts to the four operas, shortening the length of the full cycle from about 15 hours to 9 hours.
While a handful of diehard Wagnerians might disagree, reduced forces and a playing time closer to that of most operas are not necessarily negatives. Dove’s orchestration has received positive reviews over the three decades since it premiered in Birmingham. And the condensed performing time makes presenting these challenging operas more attainable by smaller opera companies and more approachable to general audiences.
On the stage, director Joachim Schamberger approaches the Norse mythology behind the Ring by presenting the rise of the gods’ power as an allegory of human evolution. By incorporating video elements, he portrays the decline of the physical world and the ascent of the virtual world as Wagner’s epic tale unfolds.
Virginia Opera is at the halfway point in the cycle as they present The Valkyrie (Die Walküre, the second opera in the Ring cycle) to open their 2022-2023 season. It opened last weekend in Norfolk and continues this weekend in Fairfax and next weekend in Richmond. This follows last year's presentation of Das Rheingold at...Topgolf in Virginia Beach! A creative approach to the COVID restrictions that sent many operas companies searching for outdoor venues early last season.
The Valkyrie is presented in two acts with a running time of less than three hours. The Virginia Opera website includes helpful resources for those new to the Ring story as well as profiles of the artists and notes from the director.
Based on the production images, it should be an exciting and moving evening at the opera. In the words of conductor Adam Turner:
“As we commission new work, expand the stories we tell onstage, and diversify our audiences and productions, we are confronting the very idea of opera itself – which for many is encapsulated by The Valkyrie. The soprano in the Viking helmet? That image is from this opera. And yet, the story, music, and humanity of this work is so much more.”
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