If the fat lady with a Viking helmet became a symbol for opera, it's both a compliment and a condemnation of Richard Wagner. His staging of the Norse mythology has been influential and pervasive enough to suffuse the wider culture (and inspire costume contests); and at the same time, the cliché conveys the dreariness of many productions relying on the same tired props. Well, SF Opera's Valkyrie last night wore not horned headgear, and it was an exhilarating production where inventive staging, impressive singing and masterful conducting made sure that it would be stay exciting throughout. Four hour and a half of Wagner tedious? Heck no, not last night!
This Walküre picks up where Rheingold left off: Wotan, the father of the Gods, has stolen the Ring that Alberich (the Nibelung) has made from the gold of the Rhine (thus, Rheingold); but Wotan has given the ring to Fafner as payment for building Valhalla. Since the ring is so powerful, Wotan wants it back; but his contractor is licensed, bonded and insured against such treachery, so Wotan needs someone else to steal the ring on his behalf, yet without him ordering the heist. Admire how cunning he is: he fathers a son, Siegmund, leaves for him to find a magically powerful sword (named Notung) and loses him in the woods to fend for himself with only vague words of encouragement to fight off the Gods. Wotan can sit back, relax, and wait for a mere mortal lifetime, and voila, Siegmund will do the deed. But the plan goes off the rails fast when the first person Siegmund intends to slay with the Notung sword is his twin sister Sieglinde's husband, Hunding. See, Hunding is tight with Wotan's wife Fricka and Fricka sees through Wotan's devious plans right away, and puts an end to it.