One opera, three acts, three different stagings

German lighting designer Urs Schönebaum, a frequent collaborator of Robert Wilson, is responsible for Act II. Here, Schönebaum uses ligh...


German lighting designer Urs Schönebaum, a frequent collaborator of Robert Wilson, is responsible for Act II. Here, Schönebaum uses light effects and a dark palette to dramatize the conflicts between Wotan, the leader of the gods; his indignant wife, Fricka; and his beloved but defiant daughter Brünnhilde. Schönebaum said “lighting is part of the setting” and offered what Gerlach called “a refined visual approach” that is realistic compared to the other two contributions.

Paris-based German artist Ulla von Brandenburg is the creative force behind Act III, in which Brünnhilde’s Valkyrie sisters attempt to protect her from Wotan’s wrath. Von Brandenburg, known for using shiny textiles in her videos and installations, created multicolored, ever-changing sets made from the same painted cotton she used for the costumes.

Stuttgart has a huge off-site rehearsal center, equipped with two halls the same size as its theater’s main stage. Schönebaum, whose act requires exceptionally precise lighting, had to share crucial access to the live stage with the other teams, leading to a schedule he described as “extremely tight”.

Brian Mulligan, the American baritone singing Wotan, appears in two of the three acts, and thus had around 15 fittings of shoes, wigs and costumes. (He said a fraction of that would be closer to the norm.) Even Schoner, who decided to split “Walküre” in the fall of 2020, admitted it was a challenge to choreograph an encore that would welcome the three teams.

Goran Juric, the Croatian bass who sings Hunding, Sieglinde’s brutal husband, feared the evening would be “a bit schizophrenic for the audience”. This concern was also expressed within the management of the company. Siegmund’s sword is an important prop in all three acts, and early in the planning Gerlach suggested that the same sword remain as a sort of Wagnerian leitmotif throughout the evening; this idea was rejected. Nevertheless, he said in an interview shortly after the first dress rehearsal, continuities appeared “without us having planned them”.

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