TORONTO—Richard Wagner’s commanding operatic masterpiece “Die Walküre” (“The Valkyrie”) takes audiences on an epic journey that is at once meditative and thought-provoking.
The second opera of Wagner’s cycle, “The Ring of the Nibelung,” based on Norse mythology, runs at over four hours long and offers audiences an intense experience—both thematically and musically—that may in fact impact the way they look at the world.
“For me Wagner is something very physical and spiritual together,” said soprano Heidi Melton, who will perform the role of the demi-goddess Sieglinde from Jan. 31 to Feb. 22 with the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto.
The young American soprano has been acclaimed for her powerful interpretations of Wagner’s operas—a combination of hard work, passion, and a heartfelt connection to his music.
Melton remembers the first time she listened to Wagner was in college when a friend introduced her to “Liebestod,” an aria from his opera “Tristan and Isolde.”
“She played it for me and it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. It was in my entire body—it was not something outside of me, it was something in, but it somehow made everything bigger and brighter and the colours were more intense,” she said.
Later on, her music coach suggested she try singing Wagner, a repertoire that had not been encouraged in college.
“We started very slowly and it just fit. It was like falling in love with the right person, when just somehow you’re comfortable with it and it’s comfortable with you.
“For the first time, it just felt like it was something I was meant to sing,” she said.
Melton said she feels Wagner’s music connects the orchestra, the singers, and the audiences in a powerful way.
“[The music] is so real and it’s so alive that people respond,” she said.
“When I watch Wagner as an audience member I am as much a part of the whole thing because we’re all in it together. It’s this incredible journey that doesn’t end until Wagner has written the last note,” she explains.
“And then you feel this collective sigh in the audience. You feel everybody finally breathe for the first time in six hours. It’s really unlike anything else.”
Melton recalled a memorable experience when after one performance, an audience member who was severely ill came up to her and told her that it was the first time in as long as he could remember that he wasn’t in pain.
“Music can do that and I’m really lucky that I’m a conduit for it. It’s not me that wrote this music … this music is really something special. It’s beyond,” she said.
The soprano believes there must be divine inspiration in works such as Wagner’s, which she feels can transcend the ordinary.
“When we find a way to touch that [transcendence] … having that connection with music I think is life-changing and life-saving in some ways,” says Melton, who believes this can be experienced by even simply listening on one’s headphones on the way to work.
“It’s truly being still and in the present and not worrying or thinking about something you would have changed, or being in pain. It is in a way like meditation,” she said.
She also expressed admiration for her character of Sieglinde, the daughter of a god with a mortal woman who suffers many miseries on earth but still maintains great strength of character.
“She’s an incredible woman,” said Melton, who can identify with Sieglinde’s strength and determination.
“I think in order to be a singer, in order to be in this career, you have to be a fighter and you have to be very stubborn and not really allow ‘no’ to be an answer.
“Sieglinde is very much this way; she’s been kidnapped, she’s been abused, and she still doesn’t give up hope—ever.”
“The COC’s production of “Die Walküre” runs Jan. 31-Feb. 22 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. For more information, visit: www.coc.ca