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S & H Opera Review

Wagner, 'The Valkyrie' Barbican Concert Hall, Wednesday, October 30th, 2002 (CC)

 


This was an impressive event, the present spate of Wagner performances representing ENO's first collaboration with the Barbican and preparatory to the fully staged productions due to begin at the Coliseum in Spring 2004.

Robert Hayward as Wotan and Kathleen Broderick as
Brunnhilde

credit Bill Rafferty

It was good to hear the orchestra in this acoustic. The strings could sound truly mellow and wind solos were well projected. Staging was, of course, minimal: two plain benches graced the front of the stage.

The Prelude to Act 1 (performed in near darkness) was incisive and strong, the strings emerging as gritty and determined as they evoked the storm. Here and throughout the piece the orchestra played with confidence, while Paul Daniel's careful balancing of textures ensured that voices were rarely overpowered. Act 1, in fact, is one of the most powerful outpourings of love in the entire 'Ring'. It demands singers of stamina and conviction. Per Lindskog as Siegmund had an edgy voice which could be powerful when required but he is not really a 'Heldentenor'. Some of his English pronunciation emerged with a quasi-Scandinavian slant: 'weee-men' for women, for example. He did, however, 'warm into' the part and his final held high note on 'Velsung' (to use the spelling in the translation) did not disappoint.

The soprano Orla Boylan took the part of Sieglinde. Her recounting of the tale of origins of the sword was gripping, securely supported by Daniel, who judged the build-up to perfection. Her heady and impassioned entry on 'You are my spring' was impressive, as was her high note as she revealed Siegmund's name. Clive Bayley is an impressive bass, and his demeanour suggested a proud and dominating Hunding. He has a large, rich voice which he projects well: his weakness seems to be his tuning, as he can sometimes sing off the centre of the note.

The whole hung together because of Daniel's expert crafting of the orchestral textures and his dramatic pacing ensured that the final climax left one breathless. Act 2 of 'Valkyrie' can seem over-long in the wrong hands. It is a tribute to all concerned that it did not stretch the patience. Here was an inspired trio of singers: Robert Hayward, imposing as Wotan, Susan Parry, mesmerising as Fricka and Kathleen Broderick, entirely convincing as Brunnhilde. Broderick's entrance could hardly have been bettered: clad in a black leather cat-suit, she leaped about the stage as if possessed, and yet every word was intelligible. Her high register is superb and her energy throughout the evening remained undimmed.

Susan Parry is a widely admired mezzo, and her projection and characterisation did not disappoint. Her anger at Wotan seemed to grow and grow until she almost spat out the word 'lust' at 'faithless and fathomless lust'; she later appeared truly revolted as she told Wotan, 'Go on, do your worst. Finish your work. You've deceived me - why not destroy me?'. Parry can project grandness and nobility within a mezzo-piano ('To presreve your Fricka's honour and glory, that's why she'll fight today!') and never seemed to lose her dignity.

Robert Hayward's singing of Wotan's long lines was considered and wholly involving, the only problem being that his tone could thin in the higher register. Siegmund and Sieglinde reappear in Act 2 Scene 3. The edge to Lindskog's voice was still there (cutting through textures like a knife now), but it no longer seemed uncomfortable to listen to. Occasionally, however, he was guilty of gabbling his words (especially at, 'So young and fair, you first seemed to be'). Hunding's reappearance was heralded by a group of off-stage hunting horns, his death at Wotan's hands closing an Act that, for once, never lost momentum for an instant.

A clutch of leather-clad Valkyries launched Act 3. Soprano Julia Melinek, a 'guest artist', made an impressive entrance and set the tone for an imposing line-up of soloists. Only Ethna Robinson's Schwertleite seemed small-of-voice (in comparison with her sisters, that is), and Daniel's fast tempo provided the requisite propulsion. It was Kathleen Broderick's Brunnhilde which stole the show, however, so determined and powerful. Broderick's and Boylan's voices were well contrasted, so that their voices worked as a pair.

To hide Brunnhilde, the Valkyries went on their knees with their back to Wotan as he revealed the magisterial side of his character. Their ensuing ensemble work was spectacular as they begged for mercy for their sister (to no avail, of course). The final scene (between Brunnhilde and Wotan) was powerful and eloquent. Brunnhilde's 'Was it so shameful' held the audience to silence, but it was her statement to Wotan that 'You taught me to love: that's why I disobeyed' that emerged as possibly the most touching moment of the evening.

Both Broderick and Hayward were magnificent in the closing pages, the whole bound by the inexorable power of Wagner's thought in this fondest, saddest of farewells. Three hammer-blows marked Wotan's invocation of Loge and prefaced the final statement that, 'Only the man afraid of nothing will enter this ring of fire!'. As so often, one left overwhelmed by the enormity of Wagner's conception. All praise should go to the orchestra, whose stamina was astonishing.

Colin Clarke

 


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