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
Robert Hayward as
Wotan and Kathleen Broderick as
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
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.