Die Walkure at the Royal Opera House
Die Walkure is the second part of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle and is based on Norse mythology, where a Valkyrie is a female figure who decides in battle which soldier shall live or die. It received its premiere in Munich in 1870 and was first presented as part of the complete Ring Cycle in 1876 in Bayreuth.
As the curtain rose the orchestral excitement raged around the auditorium as the opening storm unfolded and Stuart Skelton, as Siegmund, unleashed his first thrilling notes to ear tingling purpose.
Keith Warner’s production has evolved after 15 years into a well-worn piece and whilst the sets are reflective of Rheingold’s ‘House of the Gods’ production, they have matured to mirror the chaos of the Gods that eventually ends with their destruction in the final opera in the Ring Cycle, Gotterdammerung. In this production, with the sets designed by Stefanos Lazaridis, there is a huge amount to absorb. It is always visually striking, but the intimate moments are only heralded when the lights are dimmed and the singers project together at the front of the stage.
There are some powerhouse performances throughout the evening, led by the incredible Nina Stemme as Brunnhilde, who not only has the vocal prowess, but also the beauty of line to enthral us - particularly in her Act 3 dialogue with her father, Wotan. Hers was singing of the highest quality.
Alongside her was the Siegmund of Stuart Skelton. His is no heldentenor performance. He gives us an exciting and deeply substantial lyrical vocal outpouring with real quality, whether he is onstage, hanging off a ladder or singing flat on the ground. His fight with the Hunding of Ain Anger was a high point of the evening as Anger matched Skelton’s output note for note. This wonderful Estonian bass cut a brooding dark figure on stage and always with real authority.
Finishing off this impressive quartet of outstanding singing was the severe portrayal of Sarah Connolly’s Fricka. She possessed the vocal substance needed for this role, with a striking red dress marking her entrance. Her poise and sexual chemistry with her husband, Wotan, was the centre point of this opera, as she sees right through his cunning and plotting and makes him sacrifice his illegitimate son, Siegmund.
The American soprano, Emily Magee, provides us with a fragile, but somewhat underpowered Sieglinde – constantly cared for by Pappano, who lowered the orchestral decibels when she sang. The Wotan of the Swedish dramatic baritone, John Lundgren, gave us a thoughtful and expressively intense interpretation of the role. However, this was sometimes at the expense of the necessary heft of output that is required, particularly at certain moments during the evening. He has a quality voice, even if occasionally slightly thin in the upper register.
The evening’s musical output was brilliantly controlled by Antonio Pappano, who allowed the audience to enjoy plenty of brooding intensity in the music. This was a very lyrical interpretation of Wagner’s score, producing an evening of incredible intensity, power and excitement – even if on occasions there was a slight lack of pure clarity in the brass section. The audience were left sympathising with an outrageous Wotan when he says “all men are freer than I”.
Wagner wrote some of his most beautiful music in the intensity of love and affection between Siegmund and Sieglinde. Siegmund rejects all Godly favours, together with his rise to Valhalla, if that meant he could not be with his supreme love, Sieglinde.
This sublime music alone gave us an evening to savour.