Much of this success can be attributed, in turn, to Paul Daniel who, after a secure if often reticent start with The Rhine Gold (!), here gave notice of a true Wagner conductor in the making. In part, this is due to natural and unaffected pacing of the vast spans of each Act, allowing the interplay of motifs and contrasts of texture to register without rhythmic or dynamic exaggeration. After a lithe account of the Act One Prelude, the gradual recognition between Siegmund and Sieglinde proceeds as the thematic strands coalesce in a process the more perceivable for its understatement. The vocal contributions reflect this. With his clear if rather nasal tone, Pår Lindskog, if not especially engaging as Siegmund, is at least sympathetic. Orla Boylan warms to her role as her personality emerges over the course of the act, ensuring that the intended union arrives inevitably but not precipitately. Gerard OConnors Hunding really galvanises the latter stages - a still, brooding presence of ancestral pride and wrathful vengeance.
With Act Two, the consequences past and future of Wotans machinations are made clear, in a sequence of dialogues driving forward the narrative with an inevitability difficult to achieve when the act is interpreted as no more than the sum of its parts. Daniel succeeds handsomely, aided in Robert Hayward by a Wotan who visibly and audibly grows into the part over the course of the Acts ninety minutes. Hes no match for the moral certainties of Susan Parrys impressively-wrought Fricka, the ambiguous nature of Wotans relationship to Brünnhilde is powerfully driven home in their scene 3 confrontation, culminating in a remorseful acknowledgement of his all-too-human failings. Kathleen Broderick could well prove a dream of a Brünnhilde: vocally accurate and resourceful in her portrayal of the semi-mortal super daughter, the experiential growth in character across the latter two acts indicates a capacity to respond to ongoing dramatic flow that bodes well.
Opening with the much-maligned Ride of the Valkyries and closing with the still-mesmeric Magic Fire Music, Act Three is the ideal launch-pad into the musical and psychological issues of The Ring. Daniel fractionally if understandably underplays the panache of the opening, but the Valkyries are nothing if not a vocally-coherent group, tentatively shielding Brünnhilde before her climactic encounter with Wotan though not before Boylans radiant final appearance. The changing musical and dramatic balance of this encounter is reinforced by some of Wagners most subtly contrasted writing, and Daniel pays as scrupulous attention to characterisation as he does pacing in the build-up to Wotans admission of divine failure and heart-rending farewell. In his thoughtful programme essay, John Deathridge examines the difficult equilibrium between musical mastery and dramatic conflict at work in this music-drama; nowhere more potently expressed than in the compassion-through-recognition achieved in those cathartic final twenty minutes.
Awkward brass co-ordination and shallow-sounding Wagner Tuba-playing notwithstanding, the ENO Orchestra was attentive to the nuances of the score and Daniels sensitive handling of them. Michael Wallings concert-staging was particularly successful in conveying the non-communication on which the drama rests, through meaningful visual separation. Seldom has non-direct eye contact emerged as an expressive catalyst in itself. Zeb Lalljees costumes were unobtrusively effective; Marian Staals psychological lighting, opening out magnificently in the closing minutes, a telling reminder of the often reductive means by which Wagners dramaturgy can work its spell. Not a little of that was in evidence this evening.
- Further performances on 27 January, 23 February and 2 March
- Box Office: 020 7632 8300