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Riot girls

01/24/2002 -  and 23 February, 2 March 2002
Richard Wagner: The Valkyrie
Pär Lindskog (Siegmund), Orla Boylan (Sieglinde), Gerard O'Connor (Hunding), Robert Hayward (Wotan), Susan Parry (Fricka), Kathleen Broderick (Brünnhilde), Julia Melinek (Gerhilde), Claire Weston (Ortlinde), Renata Skarelyté (Waltraute), Zena Bradley (Schwertleite), Meryl Richardson (Heimwige), Ruby Philogene (Siegrune), Valerie Reid (Grimgerde), Leah-Marian Jones (Rossweisse),

ENO orchestra

Paul Daniel (conductor), Michael Walling (concert staging)

Wagner's operas from Tristan onwards are a bit like massage. You go into them looking for catharsis and relaxation, but you find yourself pounded by music that gets into every part of your soul and pulls it around until you are left spiritually black and blue. And for this you've paid money. The Valkyrie is possibly the most like that of all of them, because its action is purely (or incestuously) personal: the Valkyries themselves are loyal sisters; their horses are the only drop of spectacle in the show; and there's not a dwarf or dragon in sight, or any of the admittedly slow-motion swashbuckling and intrigue of Götterdämmerung. Siegmund and Sieglinde's amour fou, Wotan's struggles with his wife Fricka and his daughter Brünhilde, and his final punishment of Brünhilde are the entire action, and the whole opera on one level is simply a grand sweep of emotional intensity.

The ENO's concert performance, like last year's Rhinegold actually semi-staged using kabuki-style conventions, made things visually even grimmer by using an all black set with a single central door upstage and no props at all, let alone flying horses. Siegmund, Sieglinde and Hunding wore neutral modernish clothes, Wotan and Fricka wore black and the Valkyries wore black leather, with Brünnhilde in an Emma Peel jumpsuit. Absolutely everything depended on the musicians. They didn't quite deliver in full Wagnerian style -- there was much whingeing in the interval by purists -- but the performance was far less grim than it might have been. It was helped greatly by Jeremy Sands' idiomatic English translation, which focussed on the humanity of the characters rather than the philosophical and linguistic infrastructure building up to Götterdämmerung.

But only Susan Parry, a forceful Fricka, got all the words over. Orla Boylan as Sieglinde was luscious in person and voice. Pär Lindskog was passionate but incomprehensible as Siegmund, showing signs of becoming a Heldentenor but perhaps not ready yet. His German is almost certainly better than his English, since it's a tall order asking a non-native English speaker to learn a Wagner opera in English. Gerard O'Connor was suitably thuggish as Hunding. Robert Hayward's Wotan was occasionally wooffy but generally magisterial, if rather generic in his expressiveness. He too has the vocal substance and dramatic presence for the role, though he will need more work to get into it. Kathleen Broderick's Brünnhilde was puzzling: she looked and acted like a Marvel superhero, but sang in what sounded like a pastiche of an old-fashioned dramatic soprano. She didn't quite seem to have the heft, although she made plenty of sound. But, very petite and spunky, she looked both heroic and vulnerable, and her acceptance of Wotan's judgment was very moving. The rest of the Valkyries were suitably jolly.

The ENO orchestra under Paul Daniel delivered a stirring if soft-edged performance. The mood was melancholic rather than tragic, and some of the symphonic clarity was missing. The orchestra was an equal partner with the singers, but it left them space for a fully human performance.

This was one of only three concert performances of The Valkyrie this season. It is presumably part of a learning experience for the orchestra, and a tryout for the singers. This cast was less unexpected than in last year's Rhinegold, and with less complex interactions they perhaps won't have a problem with the month's wait before the next performance. It's still not clear, though, whether this Ring is going anywhere in particular.

H.E. Elsom



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