Opera Reviews
22 November 2017
Untitled Document

Quite a ride!

by Catriona Graham
Wagner: Die Walküre
Edinburgh International Festival
August 2017

Overheard during the second interval at the Usher Hall, during the Edinburgh International Festival, the following exchange:

Q: Have you ever heard a better cast?
A: It is as good as I think it is? - said in a tone of slight incredulity.

The conversation relates to Die Walküre, following up last year’s Das Rheingold. As a concert performance, there were no costumes or props, just voices, facial expressions and a bit of mime. Amber Wagner as the unhappily- married Sieglinde was outstanding at all three. From her first amazement when she sees an exhausted man asleep at the hearth to her happy surprise when Brünnhilde tells her she must live for the sake of the child she is carrying (Siegmund’s, the exhausted man) and she is hurried to safety, her rich, supple voice filled the Usher Hall. The character’s emotional range may be narrow, but she wrung everything from it. 

As her long-lost twin, Siegmund, Simon O’Neill’s voice rang as he called out to his lost father for a sword to defend himself from Sieglinde’s husband, Hunding. Matthew Rose was calmly insistent that he would fight Siegmund the next day.

Christine Goerke’s Brünnhilde cheekily warned her father Wotan of his approaching wife, Fricka; Karen Cargill was icily severe, full of righteous indignation and implacable in beating him down to her demand that Siegmund must die for his incest with his married sister.  Bryn Terfel was, by turns, imperious and almost despairing, beseeching his wife to see his point of view, but to no avail. He used the width of the stage to embody his impatience with the lesser gods’ lack of strategic thinking.

The tension slackened when Brünnhilde, instructed by her father, tells Siegmund that he will die, but returned when Siegmund faced Hunding in battle. So things were nicely set up for the third act and the thrilling voices of the eight Valkyries describing the return of their steeds with dead heroes. Warrior maidens they may be, but they were still rightly scared of offending their father.

Goerke was suitably nervous of facing her father’s ire and her (initially unaccompanied) pleading with Wotan was excellent. Terfel’s portrayal of Wotan’s dilemma – punish his favourite child or set a very bad precedent – was palpable. His farewell to his daughter was touching, and  completed with a tiny grimace before he kissed her to sleep.

The augmented RSNO – six harps! - played its socks off for conductor Andrew Davis, and all those horns certainly deserve a gold star. The fire music flickered in the organ gallery, and I’d like to think that, up there on his cloud or in conductors’ Valhalla (do they have to die baton in hand?), Sir Alexander Gibson looked down on this performance, and smiled.

Text © Catriona Graham

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