Concert to Come | Lyric Opera of Kansas City presents ‘Journey to Valhalla’

For Kansas City Lyric Opera’s production of “Journey to Valhalla,” projection designer David Murakami will utilize Arthur Rackham’s illustrations for the Ring Cycle. (courtesy of David Murakami)

Norse gods, mythological creatures and magnificent singing drive this concert of iconic moments from Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle

It’s been 10 years since the Lyric Opera of Kansas City has brought the music of Richard Wagner to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. In a new presentation — “Journey to Valhalla” — the company condenses the four operas of Wagner’s epic 15-hour Ring Cycle into one concert-length semi-staged show, a “best of” from the operas’ many iconic moments.

The Ring Cycle is officially “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” with Norse gods, mythological creatures and magnificent singing.

The cycle comprises “Das Rheingold” (1869), “Die Walküre” (1870), “Siegfried” and “Götterdämmerung” (1876). Lyric Opera has never performed the entire cycle, and it’s been more than 30 years since the company’s last attempts with these works, with “Siegfried” (1992) and “The Valkyrie” (1991).

Though this production is a distillation of the cycle, the creative team plans to present a throughline, a story that weaves together the main points of the four operas.

For director Joshua Horowitz, “Journey to Valhalla” is an opera “in and of itself.”

“My big goal is for folks that are coming who are Wagner fans that know the Ring Cycle, they see moments in the story that they like, they hear the music that they enjoy, and they understand as we move through if they previously have seen it,” said Horowitz. “But also for people who are new to the Ring Cycle, who are new to these stories, that we are still telling a story.”

This is Horowitz’s first Lyric Opera production as director, though he’s worked with the company before on recent projects as associate or assistant director, including “Roméo et Juliette,” “La Traviata,” “Carmen” and “Tosca.”

The music selections and story arc were determined by Grammy Award-winning conductor Michael Christie, who is music director for the production. Lyric Opera goers will recognize Christie from his local involvement in performances such as 2022’s “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs” and 2019’s “The Abduction from the Seraglio.”

Christie has created 30-minute “scenes” for each opera, highlighting major arias, duets and incidental music. “In terms of moving us forward through the evening, he has done a really fabulous job at highlighting the major story points in each of the pieces so that we hear the important music, but we also see the important moments,” said Horowitz.

“The Ring Cycle, in many ways, is a creation myth, right? It starts from nothing,” he said. From the mystical beginning, it introduces the ring, the quest for power, the pantheon of gods, the hero’s journey, love, loss and sacrifice. “It’s about this throughline of love and power.”

“It’s very layered,” Horowitz said. “I really think Wagner is very interested in this idea of love and corruption and of hate and of loss.”

An image of the Rhinemaidens from Arthur Rackham’s illustrations for the Ring Cycle. (courtesy of David Murakami)

The production will include many powerful moments, including the Rhinemaidens, the Ride of the Valkyries, Siegfried and the woodbird, and Siegfried and Brünnhilde’s duets.

The cast includes bass-baritone Kyle Albertson as Wotan (recently with LA Symphony, Dallas Symphony and Virginia Opera), soprano Rebecca Nash as Brünnhilde (Metropolitan Opera), tenor Corby Welch as Siegfried (who performed the title role at Rheinoper Düsseldorf), tenor Robert Stahley as Siegmund (Opera Santa Barbara, Dallas Opera, LA Philharmonic), soprano Meghan Kasanders as Sieglinde (Virginia Opera), mezzo-soprano Sarah Saturnino as Fricka (in role debut), and bass-baritone Peter Morgan as Alberich (he’s performed here recently in “The Sound of Music” and “Tosca”), and Lyric Opera resident artists.

“In many ways it is a world premiere, but it’s Wagner’s music still,” said Horowitz. “What we’ll be hearing is the classic Ring Cycle music, but what we’ll be seeing, both the projected visual and the staged visuals, are brand new.”

David Murakami designed the projections that serve as the scenic design, inspired by the work of Arthur Rackham, an English artist who created iconic illustrations for the Ring Cycle in the early 1900s, with lithe, bare-breasted maidens, warriors with winged helmets, and grotesque monsters. (Rackham’s illustration style defined a generation of fantastical literature, used for “English Fairy Tales,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens,” “Rip Van Winkle” and others.)

Murakami’s work, together with lighting by Selena Gonzalez-Lopez, adds depth to the theatrical dimension of this expansive undertaking.

The work will be performed in German with English supertitles and the projections will include text, to help move the story along and fill in structural gaps.

In this semi-staged concert, the Kansas City Symphony will be on stage with the vocalists, similar to Lyric Opera’s presentations of “Sondheim on Sondheim” and “Lyric Opera Goes to Hollywood.”

“One thing that we’ve been discussing is how do we include the orchestra as a character in the piece?” said Horowitz. Wagner, of course, used instrument voices and musical figures throughout his works to designate different characters and events, and they plan to use lighting and color to connect the orchestra to these recurring themes.

In association with the production, Lyric Opera of Kansas City will host additional programming to discuss Wagner, his music and society’s responses to the man and his art.

Lyric Opera of Kansas City presents “Journey to Valhalla” at 7:30 p.m. May 3 and 2 p.m. May 5 at the Kaufmann Center for the Performing Arts. For more information and tickets visit www.kcopera.org.

Libby Hanssen

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. She maintains the culture bog "Proust Eats a Sandwich."

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