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S & H Opera Review

Wagner, 'The Valkyrie' English National Opera, London Coliseum, 3 p.m. January 27th (PGW)

Acres of newsprint have already been covered on this early public rehearsal of Valkyrie for ENO's 2004 Ring; the next pre-view will be at The Barbican in the autumn. On Sunday afternoon I enjoyed it more than anticipated after reading the many reviews. I am no 'perfect Wagnerite' and it is so undramatic, setting long tracts of verbiage at peril of vocal health and stretching uncommitted listeners' patience and endurance, that I cannot echo a colleague who rates it amongst the greatest of all operas. I do recognise Wagner's consummate skill in manipulation of themes into seamless stretches of music, each an hour or more long, but that ideal is not mine.

The current semi-staging (before the arrival of the designated director Phyllida Lloyd) had nothing to offer over the very satisfactory arrangement at the Coliseum for the The Goodall Ring Experience (Classical London #64 September 2001) with the sung text projected on a screen on stage, together with Wagner's original, evocative stage directions, without any distraction by contemporary visual interpretation. This 'work in progress' was a no touch, no look version, with no contact permitted between lovers or disputants. Sieglinde was not allowed to take the reviving drink across to Siegmund and it was disconcerting to see arrivals anticipated by eager, excited scanning of the imagined horizon across the stalls, followed by Fricka, Brünnhilde & Wotan slipping on stage unobtrusively at the back; one was tempted to shout out "e's be'ind you", in the traditional manner for entrances of villains and dragons in children's shows! The banal magic fire was represented inexpensively by red lights bathing the whole auditorium in a pink glow.


Orla Boylan was a radiant incestuous sister/bride and Kathleen Broderick a winning Brünnhilde, but Robert Hayward's Wotan, his spirit worn down by vengeful wife, Susan Parry, was a boring, long winded, hectoring bully with unattractive, unvarying timbre & poor delivery of the words. The main justification for an additional comment is to note the successful debut appearance at short notice of Alan Beck from Stuttgart. As Siegmund, he gave a lift to the first act after a press night in which Pär Lindskog had apparently already been brewing the indisposition which laid him low. Beck looked good on stage, sang confidently and musically soft and loud (if without an ideally ringing top yet), phrased sensitively and with impressive diction - almost every word clear at the side of row M of the stalls (acoustics in the Coliseum are less favourable at the centre).

Whilst waiting for the whole Ring to be revealed in due, leisurely course, the Goodall CDs (CHAN 3038(4)) offer a historic performance in good transfer by Chandos and you may also like to revisit the spectacular 1976 Boulez/Chéreau Bayreuth production (which I videoed from TV at the time) on DVD (Philips 070 402-9).

Peter Grahame Woolf

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