A contemporary podcastversion of Die Walküre
Can someone whisper Die Walküre in your ear? With opera, you do not think of whispers or sighs but of strong classical voices in grand, spectacular set pieces. But the composer and game designer David Kanaga has turned Wagner’s famous opera into a podcast.
In Die Walküre, the second part of Richard Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen, the supreme god Wotan punishes his daughter Brünnhilde for not following his orders. He makes her mortal and locks her up in a mountain surrounded by fire. While closely following Wagner’s notes and storyline, Kanaga’s background in the world of gaming can be heard in his use of electronic instruments and sound effects full of humour, drama and mysticism. The parts are sung by an atypical cast, ranging from classically trained vocalists like Claron McFadden and Nadine Secunde to the demonic voice artist Attila Csihar – sung to be listened to on headphones rather than in an opera house. The result is intimate, light and less domineering than the original. One might even say: soft. The warm narrating voice of Stephen Fry turns Wagner’s stage instructions into a magical radio play in which the entire drama takes place in listeners’ imagination.
Each of the three acts of Die Walküre will be divided into several podcast episodes for Soft Valkyrie. During the festival, the four episodes of the first act will be released on: 3, 10, 17 and 24 June.
Do you like to have subtitles?
Watch the episodes on the Holland Festival / Soft Valkyrie-channel.
Fatal love and betrayal. A ruthless hunger for power that leads to revenge, cruelty and total destruction. These are excellent ingredients for a film or soap opera and also constitute the themes of Richard Wagner’s monumental opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, in which they are blown up to mythical proportions. Wagner plumbed the mythologies and sagas of Nordic peoples for the story and on the basis of this wrote a cycle of four operas, his most ambitious work. Altogether, they are about fifteen hours in length and are preferably staged on impressively designed sets that reflect the grandeur of the cycle’s themes.
Composer and game designer David Kanaga, who made Oikospiel Book II: Heat Cantata for the Holland Festival three years ago, has now turned one of the four operas into a series of podcasts. His Soft Valkyrie is an unabridged adaptation of Die Walküre, the second opera of Der Ring des Nibelungen. This opera tells the story of the twins Siegmund and Sieglinde, who were separated at a young age. Years later, Siegmund seeks shelter with his sister while her husband, King Hunding, is away. The two do not recognise each other and have a passionate affair. When he returns, Hunding challenges Siegmund to a duel. Brünnhilde is the daughter of the supreme god Wotan and one of the Valkyries – goddesses who guide fallen warriors to the afterlife. When Wotan orders her to make sure Siegmund loses the fight because of his incestuous affair with Sieglinde, she decides to help Siegmund instead. Nevertheless, the fight ends in his death. Wotan punishes Brünnhilde for her disobedience by locking her up in a mountain surrounded by a ring of fire. Sieglinde turns out to be carrying Siegmund’s child. Their son Siegfried plays an important part in the rest of the cycle.
Stage piece for the ears
Kanaga uses an English translation of the libretto for Soft Valkyrie. Where Wagner approached his operas as a total experience, Kanaga chose the form of a podcast, a stage piece for the ears. In his adaptation, based on the piano adaptation of Wagner’s music, the extremes in volume are toned down to the level of soft speech. The singers, intentionally cast from outside the world of opera, do not use vibrato and sing with as clear a pronunciation as possible. Stage directions are read as narrative, while actions are implied by using sound effects. By replacing the orchestra with a broad spectrum of sampled and electronic sounds, Kanaga creates an intimate dream world that listeners can immerse themselves in. In doing so, he also gives a sense of the domestic environment in which Wagner composed his operas. In these podcasts, the total experience Wagner envisioned becomes a theatre in listeners’ imagination in which the dramatic action can unfold.
No obvious voices were chosen for the parts. For example, the Hungarian basso Attila Csihar, mainly known from the band Mayhem and collaborations with Sunn o))), sings Hunding’s part, while the Ghanaian hip-hop artist and producer Bryan the Mensah sings Siegmund’s.
The casting also reflects how Soft Valkyrie is a coproduction of the Holland Festival, the Dutch National Opera and State Theatre Hannover. All the partners also contribute to the realisation in kind. For example, several singers from State Theatre Hannover, like Hailey Clark in the role of Sieglinde and others as the Valkyries, will collaborate in the production. In addition, Marc Evanstein will take on the piano part in the first act, while Ernst Munneke from the Dutch National Opera will play the piano reduction in the second and third acts. Other parts are for baritone Mattijs van de Woerd (Wotan) and mezzosoprano Claron McFadden (Brünnhilde), who also worked with Kanaga in Oikospiel Book II. Nadine Secunde, known for her powerful Wagner interpretations, sings the role of Wotan's wife Fricka. The English writer and presenter Stephen Fry will do the narration.
David Kanaga is an American composer and game designer known for his interactive scores for video games, such as Proteus, Dyad and Panoramical. He has written essays for his blog Wombflash Forest as well as the recent Oxford Handbook of Algorithmic Music, in which he explored video games and their significance to the wider (art) public on a more philosophical level. His music is described as ‘extra-terrestrial, eclectic and important’ and albums have been released on labels such as Orange Milk, Noumenal Loom, and Software Recording Co., run by the musician and producer Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never).
In 2017, he created Oikospiel, Book I, a dog opera in the form of a video game. It is the first part in a series of operas that are to culminate in a worldwide gaming festival, The Geospiel, at the next turn of the century. In the same year, he received the IGF (Independent Games Festival) Nuovo Award for this work. The second part premiered at the Holland Festival in 2018. Oikospiel Book II: Heat Cantata was a combination of video games and musical theatre performed live.
- Soft Valkyrie - Eine zeitgenössische Podcastversion von Richard Wagners Die Walküre
- Richard Wagner, Der Ring des Nibelungen, Erster Tag: 'Die Walküre'
- music, libretto
- Richard Wagner
- composition, MIDI arrangement
- David Kanaga
- English translation
- Frederick Jameson
- Stephen Fry
- Siegmund (tenor)
- Bryan the Mensah
- Sieglinde (soprano)
- Hailey Clark
- Hunding (bass)
- Attila Csihar
- Wotan (baritone)
- Mattijs van de Woerd
- Fricka (mezzo soprano)
- Nadine Secunde
- Brünnhilde (mezzo soprano)
- Claron McFadden
- Mercedes Arcuri (Gerhilde, Helmwige), Clara Nadesdin (Ortlinde, Siegrune), Weronika Rabek (Waltraute, Grimgerde), Monika Walerowicz (Rossweisse, Schwertleite)
- act 1, MIDI piano reduction, performed by
- Marc Evanstein
- act 2 and 3, performed by
- Ernst Munneke
- David Kanaga, Christian Carlstedt
- synoptic texts and dramaturgy
- Laura Roling
- Jasper Berben / Reinekwint
- cover image
- David Kanaga, Jaap Dankert, Muhammad Desta Laksana, Danika Perkinson
- commisioned and coproduced by
- Holland Festival, Dutch National Opera, Staatsoper Hannover
- special thanks to
- Sound department Staatstheater Hannover, Soho Square Studios London, Jochem Valkenburg
- This performance was made possible with support by