05/11/2004 - and 11, 15, 18, 22, 26, 29 May, 6 June 2004
Richard Wagner: The Valkyrie
Pär Lindskog (Siegmund), Orla Boylan (Sieglinde), Clive Bayley (Hunding), Robert Hayward (Wotan), Susan Parry (Fricka), Kathleen Broderick (Brünnhilde), Giselle Allen (Gerhilde), Claire Weston (Ortlinde), Emma Selway (Waltraute), Ethna Robinson (Schwertleite), Julia Melinek (Helmwige), Rebecca de Pont Davies (Siegrune), Valerie Read (Grimgerde), Leah-Marian Jones (Rossweisse)
Paul Daniel (conductor), Phyllida Lloyd (director)
Phyllida Lloyd’s Rhinegold was an uncomfortable comedy of sleaze that pushed the conventional class-based view of the Ring to an extreme. Lloyd’s Valkyrie is a further exposé of the gods’ corruption and the misery it inflicts on humanity (particularly the humans the gods purport to love) and on themselves. The terms of reference are still contemporary but generic: the world is a war zone somewhere roughly today, Siegmund and Sieglinde are battered civilians, and the dead warriors wear camouflage fatigues. Fricka is still corporate, carefully groomed in suits. Wotan and the Valkyries are more elemental, spirits of war. The horror of everyday violence has its models and causes here in barely idealized gods who are human weaknesses made transcendent. Like Nicholas Lehnhoff’s Parsifal for the ENO, It is probably not Wagner, but the first performance was a powerful experience for those who did not expect something in particular.
Unlike Lehnhoff’s elegant Parsifal, however, this Valkyrie looks like the cheapest production ever at the ENO (even more than the "single set" Italian season), and makes even the Scottish Nation Opera Ring look lavish. The stage is almost bare throughout, and there is one colour created mainly by lighting in each act: green "spring", orange as the Valkyries wrangle dead soldiers on rope and red flames (as Brünnhilde stands alone on an empty state) at the end. It has an austere grandeur and, with some committed performances, a substantial emotional punch.
The performance began with a piercing shriek, Sieglinde’s nightmare, which set a tone of heightened quasi-realism on stage. The orchestra was energetic and coherent, on top of the music rather than reveling in it, and was less visceral than most of the singers. Pär Lindskog was a passionate, youthful Siegmund, apparently doomed to burn out if Hunding didn’t get him, but his singing was edgy in a way that was not always comfortable to listen to. His English was impressively lucid if not quite native in pronunciation. Orla Boylan was a bruised Sieglinde who blossomed vocally as her passion grew. Clive Bayley was rock solid and musical as an impassive but terrifying Hunding, as focused of voice as he has ever been and perhaps a future Wotan. At least, he is probably as loud as John Tomlinson. Wotan himself was cryptic and unpleasant, both gone to seed from the anxious borderline criminal property developer of Rhinegold and become more demonic. Robert Hayward’s voice is almost beautiful, and he was a suitably sinister presence and inhuman presence throughout, melting only in his farewell to Brünnhilde, which came over as a sentimental lapse rather than a tragic moment of love and self-awareness.
The Valkyries (in black lycra and brunette wigs) were likewise inhuman, a touch butch and gung-ho in their music. They disconcertingly evoked the recent images of American women soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners in the way they made the dead warriors into zombies and made them pose, before Wotan made them into a new military unit. Kathleen Broderick’s Brünnhilde was vocally steady but not quite exciting. Her petite frame and slightly worn face, projected on the stage during her appearance to Siegmund, suggested Lulu more than the traditional blond beastess, and the production movingly emphasized her fragility: drugged and stripped of her Valkyrie gear to her Calvin Kleins, she was horribly exposed on the stage. Wotan finally roused the fire to protect her from a horde of potential rapists in a painfully telling paternalist gesture.