One Opera, Three Acts, Three Different Stagings

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

The German artist Ulla von Brandenburg, who is based in Paris, is the creative force behind Act III, in which Brünnhilde’s Valkyrie sisters try to protect her from Wotan’s wrath. Von Brandenburg, known for using bright textiles in her videos and installations, has created multicolored, ever-shifting sets fashioned out of the same painted cotton that she has used for the costumes.

Stuttgart has a huge off-site rehearsal facility, equipped with two halls the same scale as its theater’s main stage. Schönebaum, whose act requires exceptionally precise lighting, had to divide up crucial access to the real stage with the other teams, leading to a schedule that he called “extremely tight.”

Brian Mulligan, the American baritone singing Wotan, appears in two of the three acts, and consequently had around 15 shoe, wig and costume fittings. (He said a fraction of that would be closer to the norm.) Even Schoner, who settled on dividing up “Walküre” in fall 2020, admitted it was a challenge choreographing a curtain call that would accommodate the three teams.

Goran Juric, the Croatian bass who sings Hunding, Sieglinde’s brutish husband, worried that the evening might be “kind of schizophrenic for the audience.” That concern also arose among the company’s management. 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 kind of Wagnerian leitmotif through the evening; that idea was rejected. Nevertheless, he said in an interview not long after the first dress rehearsal, continuities have emerged “without being planned by us.”

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