This past Saturday night Kathi and I went and saw Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) at the San Francisco Opera. Produced by Stephen Spielberg and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the cast of this all-star production of the Wagnerian classic includes Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao, Bombo, Mayor Gavin Newsom, and special guest Glenn Beck as The Shark.
No wait, that was Jaws. And Marlon Brando can’t sing.
The San Francisco production of The Valkyrie was stunning. For one thing, I really enjoyed it—which is saying something, since this is a four and one half hour show and I am not an opera buff. When I see an opera my mind keeps referencing the Bugs Bunny cartoons and movies though which I was first exposed to the music. Someday I will become a more cultured man.
The San Francisco Opera’s sets for Die Walküre were amazing and the performers were fabulous. I think the opera itself could use some editing—the first set, in particular, was overlong—but who’s going to edit Wagner? It’s the same problem we have with Moby Dick—who’s going to edit a great classic? Although you could argue the Hemingway did in The Old Man and the Sea and Spielberg did in Jaws.
This great Wagnerian opera is, in short, about the incestuous twins Siegmund and Sieglinde, who become lovers and are, oddly, the heroes of this opera. It is also about the God Wotan, who is their father—he’s pretty much everyone’s father in this show—who sees to it that his son Siegmund is killed and then condemns his beloved daughter Brünnhilde to be a mortal woman as punishment for aiding her half-brother Siegmund, which is what Wotan wants her to do in his heart but is done in defiance of his direct order, and—well, really it is all too much to explain. You had to be there.
All this incest, intrigue, and murder made my own sins and foibles seem paltry by comparison. I found myself identifying with Siegmund, only in a more Presbyterian manner. I can’t say I really drew any lesson from the opera, except that it’s better to find a good family therapist and talk things over before everything gets out of hand and turns into a global conflagration. Words to live by.
We attended Die Walküre with our friends Amy Tan and Lou DeMattei, supporters of the San Francisco Opera and members of its Medallion Society. In 2008 the San Francisco Opera held the world-premier of an opera based on Amy’s novel The Bonesetter’s Daughter. Sitting with Amy, Lou, and Kathi, I began to dream about an opera based on my book How to Play the Harmonica: and Other Life Lessons. It would have everything Wagner has, minus the incest, and it would have something Wagner never dreamed of including in his little production—the harmonica. And the lessons are a lot clearer.