For those of us for whom this is one of the greatest
of all operas, it might be supposed that some 'Valkyrie' is better than
none at all, but there were moments last night when I doubted this.
Described as a 'staged concert,' this was neither fish, flesh nor fowl,
and one has to sympathise with a company who obviously cannot yet afford
to mount the production they would wish to give us. They valiantly did
all they could to make it as theatrical an experience as possible, helped
by Marian Stall's vivid lighting, but with a tiny raised platform flanked
by harps to the left and drums to the right, and singers who unrelentingly
sang to the front, it was a real challenge to suspend any of the necessary
disbelief. Matters were not helped by the translation, which displayed
no feeling whatsoever for the shape of the music, the import of the
words, or the exigencies of the orchestral line.
With two exceptions, the singers were not distinguished,
and it was the orchestra which provided most of the evening's musical
pleasure, despite a marked aura of tiredness towards the end. The Prelude
was paced with real skill by Paul Daniel, raising many hopes
with some truly elemental commitment in the storm music, and shaping
the lyrical passages with finesse. Sadly, the entry of the Wälsung
twins did not encourage; the first thing one had to remark upon was
that their costumes (distressed cream linen suit / coat) seemed to have
been recycled from those of the Male and Female chorus in the recent
ENO production of 'The Rape of Lucretia' in which this evening's Sieglinde,
Orla Boylan, sang the female role; a man behind me muttered darkly 'That
suit looked better on John Mark Ainsley..'with which I had to silently
Pär Lindskog was simply not up to the
role of Siegmund; it is a part often sung by tenors whose lower range
has baritonal tendencies, and rightly so, but his voice is flat rather
than low, and lacks that combination of rapturous lyrical sweetness
and heroic 'ping' so essential to this role. His mien throughout might
best be described as petulant, and his singing of such magical passages
as the reaction to the drink and, especially, 'Winterstürme wichen
dem Wonnemond..' (Wintry storms have vanished before Maytime...') just
made you think ever more fondly of the impassioned sweep and romantic
ardour of such singers as Kenneth Woollam, upon whom in better days
ENO could count as a company stalwart in such a role. It is possible
that Lindskog was simply under the weather (although no announcement
was made) but I have seldom been so glad to see the death of a character.
Sieglinde, in the warm, maternal person of Orla Boylan, fared
somewhat better. Hers is a voice well suited to the role, in that it
combines lyrical sweetness with a sense of powerful ease, and she managed
to rise to some of her great moments, although 'O wenn du sie gewänn'st!'
(O, could you win it!) lacked the required passion, and she was not
helped by having to struggle to rise above the orchestra at 'O hehrstes
Wunder!' She was assisted still less, as was true of all the singers,
by an insensitive and musically inept translation which forced her to
fight the very words she was attempting to sing. Two glaring examples:
that wonderful moment of narrative at '.ein Fremder trat da herein'
(a stranger then came in) was translated as 'an old man entered the
room,' so that instead of keeping the lovely phrasing of 'ein Frem /
der, trat da herein' she had to sing 'an old man ent / er / ed the room;'
at 'Sieglinde bin ich' we got 'I am Sieglinde' which came out as 'Eyyyye
yam Sieglinde' when "Sieglinde am I" would have been preferable.
Gerard O'Connor's Hunding was strongly characterised, as was Robert
Hayward's Wotan, but the latter's voice is unappealing, being
much too dry and lacking in grandeur. He tried his best to present the
character, but his resources were not up to the most challenging moments,
and he did not convey any of Wotan's touching affection at 'Der Augen
leuchtendes Paar'(Those bright shining eyes) or his determination at
the closing lines. Indeed, the whole of his Farewell had a rather muted
feeling. He also had to suffer one of the worst indignities of the translation,
and at one of the most noble moments in the whole of music; at 'der
freier als ich, der Gott!' instead of being able to sing something approximating
to the musical line such as 'a freer than I, a God!' he had to sing
'one who's free / freer than me." This is not only crassly ungrammatical
but extremely ugly, and I am not exaggerating when I say that a frisson
of distaste went through the row in which I was sitting.
Kathleen Broderick's appearance as Brünnhilde
caused some snickering around us; there was some discussion as to whether
the model for her presentation had been Emma Peel in 'The Avengers,'
Liz Hurley in her Versace days, or, my suggestion, Michelle Pfeiffer's
Cat Woman. Whichever model was the one, she looked impressively agile
and had most of the notes, but without any real tenderness suggested
in the voice or the person; I found it difficult to imagine her as the
heroine whose selfless love was to redeem mankind, and found myself
thinking fondly of Rita Hunter, who certainly could not have jerked
and slinked her way about the stage as Ms Broderick did, but who could
make your throat contract at such moments as 'Brünnhilde betet!'
(Brunnhilde begs you) and 'Auf den Gebot entbrenne ein Feuer.' (At your
command let fire blaze)
The other Valkyries were got up in similar black leather
but with red T shirts underneath, and they mostly made the best of what
they had to do, Claire Weston's Ortlinde in particular ringing
out with confidence. Susan Parry's Fricka was another assumption
of real distinction to add to her increasing gallery of roles; she received
by far the strongest ovation of the evening, and with good reason -
her singing was firmly shaped, exactly focussed and warmly characterised,
and when she was on stage you could not take your eyes off her.
The orchestral playing throughout was exciting if
at times a little lacking in polish, and the tempi were rather leisurely,
especially in the 'Ride:' those horses would have been stepping rather
than galloping. Paul Daniel has clearly been listening to the classic
Furtwängler recording, as was evident from his management of the
strings and his willingness to linger over certain phrases, but Wagnerians
who are hoping for a truly involving evening at ENO's "staged concert"
might do better to stay at home and wallow in Windgassen.
Pictures by Bill