By Bob Bernard
Billy Bigelow’s soliloquy from Rogers & Hammerstein’s 1945 musical Carousel poses the ideal relationship for all time. But, for a long time, Wagner’s Wotan had it the other way around – relishing the experiences as he and his Valkyrie daughter Brünnhilde joined together on battlefields, she coordinating the selection of those fallen heroes to be transported to Valhalla by her sister Valkyries.
It is only in Acts 2 and 3 of Die Walküre, when prior constraints compel Wotan to go counter to his paternal instincts with respect to Siegmund, that Brünnhilde’s attempted protection of Siegmund causes Wotan to overtly abandon his Wälsung son and then go about punishing his Valkyrie daughter.
After the other Valkyries go off with Sieglinde, Wotan – as a god-figure – informs Brünnhilde that she is now to be “defrocked” of her godhead and then placed into a deep sleep and placed on a rock where any random chance encounter by a man will result in her being taken as his wife. After much communal discussion, Wotan realizes that being a god just isn’t sufficient: he relents, and what follows is an instant transformation from interplay between God-and-Valkyrie to that of a father-to-daughter reconciliation. This reconciliation, initiated by an embrace, was movingly recorded in the Metropolitan Opera’s 1990 Otto Schenk production by video director Dr. Brian Large:
Left to right: Hildegard Behrens is Brünnhilde; James Morris is Wotan
Then, Wotan reminiscences with regard to Brünnhilde’s eyes, the camera’s looking over Wotan’s left shoulder catching how the reflections in her eyes match Wotan’s words:
Left to right: “That bright pair of eyes that often I fondled with smiles …” “That radiant pair of eyes that often in tempests blazed at me.”
Following, Wotan kisses her eyes in sequence. This action concludes her godhood and causes her to pass into a deep sleep. The relative size and strength of Donald McIntyre’s Wotan vs. Gwyneth Jones’ Brünnhilde in the Bayreuth centenary production made possible these additional post-kiss intimacies:
Left to right: A cradling in the arms; a final embrace
The final moments of the "Abschied [Wotan’s Farewell]" conclude with Wagner’s "Magic Fire Music" overlaid upon the saddest music Wagner (anyone?) ever composed:
Left to right: The evoking of Loge's firepower; a last moment of reflection
Wotan’s psychological metamorphosis into a heart-felt father gave him the immediate paternal pleasure of reconciliation, only to then exact from him the greatest pain any parent can experience: the saying of farewell to a child … forever.
May your Father’s Day include at least one paternal embrace and, if appropriate, a moment of harmonization ---but no permanent good-byes.