Friday, October 25, 2013

Preview: Brünnhilde asks, "Who am I if I were not your will?" Question: Is it ever OK for a daughter to say such a thing to her father?


Deborah Voigt as Brünnhilde and Bryn Terfel as Wotan in the new Met production of Die Walküre, 2011
BRÜNNHILDE [answers WOTAN softly]:
To Wotan's will you're speaking;
you can say what you will;
what am I,
if not your will alone?
-- English singing translation by Andrew Porter
[A]

[B]

[C]

[D]

Our four Brünnhildes could be drawn from this list (in alphabetical order): Kirsten Flagstad, Rita Hunter, Birgit Nilsson, and Astrid Varnay

by Ken

There are, of course, parents who truly don't want their children to be independent -- indeed, whole cultures that depend on squelching any such impulse. But through time there have also been lots of seemingly enlightened parents who wish this devoutly, as long as said independence leads the children to think and behave exactly as they would wish. It doesn't usually work out this way. It's a dilemma.

Now Wotan has particular reasons for needing independence in his children, which we won't go into now, except to wonder how feasible it is for his own flesh and blood to be truly independent of him. This week we're continuing to deal with his unbearable pain at being forced to part with his Valkyrie daughter Brünnhilde, as he does in the great Farewell at the end of Die Walküre, which we heard last week ("Can we fully feel Wotan's pain knowing that it's mostly self-inflicted?"). It's after he has been bitch-slapped by his wife, Fricka, over the whole mess he's gotten into, dating back to his flagrant breach of contract with the giants Fasolt and Fafner, violating a contract he never had any intention of honoring, that he finds himself in dialogue with Brünnhilde.

Brünnhilde has found her father in a state of despair unlike anything she has ever seen, and has implored him to open up to her. He responded with one of the musical literature's most extraordinary outbursts -- an expression of rage and self-pity (which we're going to hear in a moment). Getting a bit of control of himself, he asked whether unburdening himself might not cost him the grip of his will. She responds with the extraordinary passage we've just heard.


LET'S HEAR OUR FOUR BRÜNNHILDES AGAIN,
THIS TIME PROPERLY IDENTIFIED


WAGNER: Die Walküre: Act II,
Brünnhilde, "Zu Wotans Willen sprichst du"

BRÜNNHILDE [answers WOTAN softly]:
To Wotan's will you're speaking;
say to me what you will;
who am I, if I were not your will?

[in English] Rita Hunter (s), Brünnhilde; English National Opera Orchestra, Reginald Goodall, cond. EMI-Chandos, recorded live, Dec. 18, 20, and 23, 1975
[B]

Kirsten Flagstad (s), Brünnhilde; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fritz Stiedry, cond. Live performance, Jan. 27, 1951
[C]

Astrid Varnay (s), Brünnhilde; Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, Joseph Keilberth, cond. Testament, recorded live, July 25, 1955
[D]

Birgit Nilsson (s), Brünnhilde; Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. Philips, recorded live, 1967


NOW LET'S HEAR THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT IN WHICH
BRÜNNHILDE MAKES THIS REMARKABLE AVOWAL


And, again, the astonishing outburst from Wotan.

Die Walküre, Act II, Scene, Wotan-Brünnhilde,
Wotan, "In eigner Fessel fing ich mich"

WOTAN [drops his arm helplesslly and lets his head sink on his breast]:
I forged the fetters;
now I'm bound.
I, least free of all living!
BRÜNNHILDE: What troubles you so?
What new grief is this?
WOTAN [whose expression and gestures grow in intensity from this point, until they culminate in a fearful outburst]:
O infinite shame!
O shameful distress!
God's despair!
God's despair!
Endless remorse!
Grief evermore!
The saddest of beings is Wotan!
BRÜNNHILDE [terrified, throws shield, spear, and helmet from her and sinks at WOTAN's feet in anxious solicitude]:
Father! Father!
Tell me, what is it?
For your daughter is filled with dismay!
Oh, trust in me!
You know I'm true!
See, Brünnhilde begs you!
[She lays her head and hands with loving concern on his knees and breast.]
WOTAN [looks long in her eyes; then he strokes her hair with involuntary tenderness. As if coming to himself out of deep brooding, he begins softly]:
If I should tell you,
might I not lose
the controlling power of my will
BRÜNNHILDE [answers him equally softly]:
To Wotan's will you're speaking;
you can say what you will;
what am I,
if not your will alone?
-- English singing translation by Andrew Porter

[in English] Norman Bailey (b), Wotan; Rita Hunter (s), Brünnhilde; English National Opera Orchestra, Reginald Goodall, cond. EMI-Chandos, recorded live, Dec. 18, 20, and 23, 1975

Hans Hotter (b), Wotan; Marta Fuchs (s), Brünnhilde; Berlin State Opera Orchestra, Bruno Seidler-Winkler, cond. EMI, recorded Sept. 19-20, 1938

Ferdinand Frantz (bs-b), Wotan; Kirsten Flagstad (s), Brünnhilde; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Wilhelm Furtwängler, cond. Live performance, Mar. 9, 1950

Thomas Stewart (b), Wotan; Régine Crespin (s), Brünnhilde; Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. DG, recorded Aug.-Sept. and Dec. 1966


IN THIS WEEK'S SUNDAY CLASSICS POST

We further explore the proposition that Wotan's pain is largely self-inflicted. (UPDATE: Well, yes, in a way, but actually we hear the whole of Act I of Die Walküre.)
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