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Completed in 1856, the first act of Wagner’s Die Walküre weaves the enrapturing music of Siegmund and Sieglinde into a love so powerful, so intoxicating, it sets into motion a whopping eleven and a half hours of opera. The second of the four Ring operas, Die Walküre premiered in 1870 at the National Theatre in Munich with the father of Richard Strauss leading the horn section. Over the coming years, the younger Strauss followed his father into that very same opera house, first as an audience member, then as a conductor, and later as a composer. Strauss achieved a level of glory seldom experienced by any composer until 1943 when the National Theatre fell to allied bombs; soon, many of the monuments to German culture—and to Strauss’s life—followed. At the end of the War, the brokenhearted 80-year-old issued his lament to a lost civilization: Metamorphosen.
Please note that the conductor for this program has changed. Conductor Antonio Pappano has withdrawn due to commitments at the Royal Opera House.
At a Glance
Metamorphosen 1945 | 26 mins
Richard Strauss began working in earnest on Metamorphosen (Metamorphoses) shortly after marking his 80th birthday in the summer of 1944. In this single movement of nearly a half-hour’s duration, twenty-three string instruments weave their independent strands into a dazzling tapestry, each thread being assigned (for the most part) to a single player. Though not despairing, it is a contemplative work, its slowly paced opening and closing sections embracing a central expanse that builds toward more energetic ecstasy. In the years immediately following its premiere, this piece became widely acknowledged as Strauss’s personal elegy for the destruction of his beloved Munich in the Second World War. A motif from the funeral march of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony seems to inspire Strauss’s principal theme, but the composer’s intentions remain hidden, adding a layer of meaning (or ambiguity) to this late-in-life masterpiece. Read More —James M. Keller
Act I of Die Walküre 1856 | 60 mins
Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) is the second part of Richard Wagner’s massive operatic tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), where it is preceded by Das Rheingold and followed by Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. Based on Germanic-Nordic legends, it tells a complicated multi-generational tale involving the balance of power among gods, demigods, and mortals. The first of the three acts of Die Walküre focuses on the flowering of an incestuous love affair between Siegmund (tenor) and Sieglinde (soprano), the latter drugging her malevolent husband, Hunding (bass), to provide the opportunity for them to act on their passion. Ring aficionados may notice musical motifs that surface elsewhere in the cycle, binding the plot of this segment to the larger story. Read More—J.M.K.