ENO Concert Valkyrie

The Valkyrie
[concert presentation: sung in English]

Siegmund – Pår Lindskog (tenor)
Sieglinde – Orla Boylan (soprano)
Hunding – Gerard O’Connor (bass)
Wotan – Robert Hayward (bass-baritone)
Fricka – Susan Parry (mezzo-soprano)
Brünnhilde – Kathleen Broderick (soprano)
Gerhilde – Julia Melinek (soprano)
Ortlinde – Claire Weston (soprano)
Waltraute – Renata Skarelyté (mezzo-soprano)
Schwertleite – Zena Bradley (mezzo-soprano)
Helmwige – Meryl Richardson (soprano)
Siegrune – Ruby Philogene (mezzo-soprano)
Grimgerde – Valerie Reid (mezzo-soprano)
Rosseweisse – Leah-Marian Jones (mezzo-soprano)

Michael Walling – concert-staging director
Marian Staal – lighting designer
Zeb Lalljee – costume co-ordinator

Orchestra of English National Opera conducted by Paul Daniel

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 24 January, 2002
Venue: The Coliseum, London

Often considered the most overtly ’human’ music-drama of ’The Ring’ cycle, The Valkyrie was once often performed as a stand-alone operatic work. More than the other constituents of the tetralogy, it forms a coherent entity on its own terms while functioning as the musical and emotional nerve-centre of the whole enterprise. Yet the lengthy sequential narratives of the central second Act can be difficult to integrate with the taut psychological process of the outer ones. Much of the success of English National Opera’s new production lies in the seamless manner with which this is achieved.

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 O’Connor’s 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 Wotan’s 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 Act’s ninety minutes. He’s no match for the moral certainties of Susan Parry’s impressively-wrought Fricka, the ambiguous nature of Wotan’s 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 Boylan’s radiant final appearance. The changing musical and dramatic balance of this encounter is reinforced by some of Wagner’s most subtly contrasted writing, and Daniel pays as scrupulous attention to characterisation as he does pacing in the build-up to Wotan’s 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 Daniel’s sensitive handling of them. Michael Walling’s 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 Lalljee’s costumes were unobtrusively effective; Marian Staal’s psychological lighting, opening out magnificently in the closing minutes, a telling reminder of the often reductive means by which Wagner’s 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

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