He also excels at drawing compellingly acted performances from a strong cast, starting here with the soprano Christine Goerke, an arresting Brünnhilde. In the time since her first staged Brünnhilde in Toronto in early 2015 Ms. Goerke has made this role her own. (She will sing it when the Metropolitan Opera revives Robert Lepage’s “Ring” next season.) That her singing on Friday was so sumptuous, powerful and exciting was no surprise. Her Valkyrie war cries rang with steely brilliance; her frantic pleas to her sisters to protect her from Wotan’s wrath had tremulous intensity. She brought disarming vulnerability to the moments when this feisty Brünnhilde was caught up in emotional confusion, especially the long scene in Act II when Wotan unburdens himself to his favorite child and tells the whole sorry saga of the mistakes he made trying to gain more power.
The bass-baritone Eric Owens is a magnificent Wotan. His first crack at the role came last season here with the Lyric Opera’s “Rheingold.” Though that performance had dignity and vigor, vocally he sounded a little underpowered.
Credit Cory Weaver/Lyric Opera of Chicago
That was not a problem during Friday’s “Walküre.” With a stentorian voice and crisp diction, he sent Wotan’s phrases soaring into the house. And this god’s dilemma, the way he has enslaved himself, as he tells Brünnhilde, by finagling with covenants he is supposed to enforce, came through achingly during this heartbreaking scene. As presented here, Wotan and his wife, Fricka (the rich-voiced mezzo-soprano Tanja Ariane Baumgartner), could be a wealthy robber baron in the late 19th century and his entitled-acting spouse.
If he appealing tenor Brandon Jovanovich lacked a little vocal heft as Siegmund, he sang with burnished sound and deep feeling, and conveyed the sadness of a rootless young person who does not even know he’s a demigod, the son of Wotan. The impressive soprano Elisabet Strid, as Sieglinde, sang with radiant, focused sound and poignant expressive shadings. She and Mr. Jovanovich were profoundly moving during Act I as these long-separated twins realize their connection and fall helplessly in love.
Mr. Pountney made a bad call in his staging by having Sieglinde’s bullying husband Hunding (the bass Ain Anger in a menacing performance) chain her to the tree in his hut when he’s away. No physical restraint keeps miserable Sieglinde in this abusive marriage. She is terrified. But Hunding has also beaten her down, made her feel like a powerless nobody.
Andrew Davis conducted an uncommonly warm and flowing performance of Wagner’s score — almost too much so. There were stretches when subdued passages, for all the beauty of the playing, lost suspense and tension. But the episodes of high drama had plenty of vigor and clarity. And perhaps the restraint Mr. Davis brought to bear balanced out the theatricality of the staging to good effect.