This month Toronto-area audiences have an opportunity to experience the world of Wagner once again when the Canadian Opera Company presents The Flying Dutchman. Like The Flying Dutchman Wagner’s four-opera Ring Cycle, which opened the COC’s new hall four years ago, is based on ancient myths and legends. But it involves many more characters. Jorge Luján focuses his retelling of Wagner’s libretto on Brunhilda, interpreting it as the betrayal of a loving, loyal woman. He even switches the final sequence of events in the last opera of the cycle, The Twilight of the Gods, so that the ending belongs to Brunhilda instead of the triumphant Rhinemaidens.
Brunhilda’s father Wotan, king of the gods, sets off the endless cycle of betrayal by refusing to pay the giants for building his dream home, Valhalla. Her stepmother Fricka, the goddess of marriage, badgers her husband Wotan into abandoning his son, Siegmund. Brunhilda’s mother Erda, the earth goddess, tells Wotan, “Once more your wishes do not match your acts and are sure to bring catastrophe.”
Some acts are more excusable than others. Siegfried, for instance, is fed a potion that makes him forget all about his love for Brunhilda. Even Brunhilda, who disobeys her father and ultimately betrays Siegfried, though not without cause.
Luján’s text, given here in Canadian translator Hugh Hazleton’s smooth translation, is concise and clear in its story-line, and poetic in its telling. There are a few unfortunate phrases such as, “I am Siegfried! You are Brunhilda!”, which occurs during one of the most gorgeous duets in all opera. But Luján does remind us of the missing music when Brunhilda “intones a deep, sad funeral song.”
The illustrations by Austrian artist Linda Wolfsgruber create a vivid atmosphere, with muted colours set off by a subtle use of reds. Her detailed textures evoke moods like Brunhilda’s sense of vulnerability when Siegfried wakes her. I can imagine her settings and costumes working effectively on stage.
Whom this book is intended for is not stated. With illustrations covering each page, it could be seen as a children’s book. Yet the details of the story are sophisticated, and both text and illustrations will delight adults. For any audience this lovely makes a terrific introduction to a complex and important work.