Just finished watching Patrice Chéreau – Pierre Boulez Der Ring DVD boxset (Toronto Public Library has it) and although there are plenty of interesting female characters, Brünnhilde stands out as arguably the most important agent in the entire Ring.
In a key scene mid-way through the Ring, she is about to be demoted from a divinity to a woman – to be punished by being clearly sexed and by moving from a state where she can do anything to a state where she will be enslaved by love for the first man who shows interest in her. Later this harsh punishment gets partly amended but she still has to go through a state of passivity and let herself be found and awaken by a hero, though it will be a hero of her choice. In a significant way, everything that happens from the Walküre on is a process of gendering Brünnhilde, which takes place along with the other main unfolding, the decline of the gods and the god-sanctioned order of the universe. Like any other woman, Brünnhilde de Beauvoir wasn’t born a woman but needs to learn how to become one. Hint: things don’t go that well.
After of bit of research, it turned out that there are a number of feminist and Brünnhilde-centred stagings of the Ring, and not a small amount was written along these lines. The Copenhagen Ring is among the best known womanist Rings. Earlier this year, Francesca Zambello did a decidedly feminist Die Walkure at the San Francisco Opera. One of the few other women who ever staged the Ring was the East- and West-German theatre director Ruth Berghaus, who worked with the Berliner Ensemble and Bertolt Brecht. (My search for any surviving recordings of her work didn’t bear any fruit, but I’m sure there must be something somewhere? There’s plenty of photography and studies, interviews and newspaper reviews, luckily.) The Chéreau ring was also very feminist: his decision to dress the gods in the late nineteenth-century haute bourgeoisie clothes and narrow their world down to that of a family unit had a lot to do with it.
Off to Mark Poster‘s article ‘What does Wotan want’, and a re-read of Žižek‘s musings on Wagner in Opera’s Second Death… Brünnhilde talk to be continued.