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Die Walkure, ROH - Review Round-up

Written By The Wagnerian on Monday 1 October 2012 | 12:28:00 am

It would be fair to say that in the past, Keith Warner's Ring Cycle has not always achieved universal recognition. It is thus interesting to see what changes he has made to Walkure in response in part, perhaps, to some of this critique. After all, such continued development has been the mainstay of Bayreuth - and if its good enough for them...

Words such as "cluttered" and "lacks clarity" have been previously used with some frequency. While we noted yesterday (in a round-up of Rheingold reviews) that he had seemed to  respond to such comments and had made some changes, his Rheingold was still not receiving anywhere near the reception one assumes he would like. It is thus interesting to see if the changes he has made to Walkure will hit a more positive note.

However, ignoring the production itself, it is clear from yesterdays look at Rheingold that there was much praise for cast, conductor and orchestra. Special note was made of the Wotan of Bryn Terfel (whose Wanderer is one of the few reasons to buy the METS new Ring Cycle "highlights" disc - Twilight Of The Gods) and the Fricka of Sarah Connolly (who should be a far more frequent visitor to ROH).

Antonio Pappano  has not been considered a "natural" Wagner conductor by everyone - although he certainly has his supporters. But then Wagner seems to be notoriously difficult to "get right" (whatever that might be). It is was thus interesting to note the praise that he received for Rheingold. Will this trend continue with Walkure?


Rupert Christiansen at the Telegraph (RC-T) found the production to remain "... visually hyperactive and pretentious." But added, "...strength showed in the vividly articulated dialogues, in which mythical characters become urgently real."

Erica Jeal at the Guardian (EJ - G) noted that Warner's production reminds her of " obstacle course of leftover props." But was nevertheless enamored with the final of act 3 saying - once he leaves this clutter behind -  "With Brünnhilde's defiance of her father, however, Warner's staging turns in a rewarding new direction, away from the clutter and towards the abstract. The rotating, stage-filling white slab on the Valkyries' Rock, and Wotan holding the Magic Fire gently in his hand: these are unforgettable images."

Michael Church at the Independent (MC - I) while unhappy with Rheingold, finds Walkure, "... (apart from some dodgy pyrotechnics) a superbly assured conception, in which the incest which opens and closes the story - brother with sister, father with daughter - triggers the most exquisite suffering..."

Barry Millington at the London Evening Standard (BM - LES) has remained a supporter of this Cycle and that enthusiasm continues here: "...One of the great virtues of Keith Warner’s production is the way heightened emotion is conveyed by the reaction of characters to what they are hearing"

Conductor and Orchestra

Rupert Christiansen found, "...a more intense pulse in Pappano’s conducting and some superb orchestral playing" while Erica Jeal found only " orchestra that, under Antonio Pappano, rarely holds back". However both Micheal Church and Barry Millington had more to say:"Antonio Pappano and his orchestra are on top form" noted Church while Millington  said "Pappano’s masterly handling of the score recaptures the spontaneity and rhythmic flexibility that were originally there but to my ears went missing when the cycle was first heard complete." Going further by noting that in act one, "Antonio Pappano, ... provides a shimmering backdrop for Siegmund’s intimate reverie"


Bryn Terfel

Praise continues for Terfel with Christiansen being something of an exception, who observed,  "Terfel embodied the gamut of Wotan’s emotions, from imperious rage to aching tenderness; vocally, he sounded a little tired and below his best." 
How much of a contrast it is then to hear Jeal say, "Terfel continues to captivate, charting the unravelling of Wotan's tightly wound composure in everything from a whisper to a bellow." Although in defense of Christensen she does note. " Is there a hint of vocal fatigue in the middle of his long farewell to Brünnhilde? But does it make a difference? Seems not "Perhaps, but he communicates every word..."

Micheal Church is even more enthusiastic - and seems not to note any vocal "tiredness", "(T)he dark heart of ‘Die Walküre’ is Wotan’s suicidal monologue of despair and self-disgust, and from here on we see what a great performer Terfel has become. Violently sacrificing his son, then tenderly consigning his daughter to her prison of fire while the air fills with music of transcendent beauty, this Wotan seems to command not just the stage, but the world itself"

And Millington continues the praise, "Terfel’s Wotan has meanwhile developed an extra dimension: to his previous lieder-like sensitivity to textual nuance, he now adds a greater amplitude of tone, occasionally pushing the voice to brutal extremes."

Susan Bullock

Christiansen was far from happy with Susan Bullock’s Brünnhilde considering it "not a success". But found a possible explanation in  "an appalling mishap at her first entrance (that) must have shaken her confidence" (She became stuck in a harness from the rafters and needed a stage hand to disentangle her!) He would thus "(P)refer to reserve any more detailed judgment until the end of the cycle".

Jeal noted this mishap also but seemed to find it left her performance unaffected saying, "Brünnhilde has a lot of growing up to do, and Susan Bullock so far combines radiant singing with an almost puppyish demeanour"

Church notes, "Susan Bullock’s Brünnhilde delivers the Annunciation of Death with hypnotic power" and Millington found her to be, "(W)arm, lyrical and above all intelligent in the way she responds to her unpredictable father."

Sarah Connolly

Connolly continues to receive much justified praise, I will simply quote below:

"The evening’s best performance undoubtedly came from Sarah Connolly, whose impeccable Fricka must have had Wagner sighing contentedly in whatever corner of hell he has been assigned - “that’s how I meant my music to be sung”." RC-T)

"Sarah Connolly cements an outstanding role debut as Fricka" (EJ-G)

"Sarah Connolly’s coldly censorious Fricka." (MC-I)

"Sarah Connolly plays his consort, Fricka, with formidable composure and impressive vocal accomplishment." (BM-LES)

Rest Of Cast

I am not going to mention praise for Tomlinson, it was as good as one would expect.

Of the rest of the cast Christiansen noted, "Eva-Maria Westbroek made an ardent Sieglinde, John Tomlinson a fearsome Hunding, and the Valkyries were a properly rumbustious girl band. I was less engaged by Simon O’Neill’s loud and clear but unmusical Siegmund"

On the other hand Micheal Church found. "Simon O’Neill’s Siegmund and Eva-Maria Westbroek’s Sieglinde are ideally matched for their great duet", while Erica Jeal  finds the same, noting, "As the incestuous twins Siegmund and Sieglinde, Simon O'Neill's huge, steel-tipped tenor once more complements Eva-Maria Westbroek's glowing soprano. The massed Valkyries make a thrilling juggernaut of noise.

Over at the LES Barry Millington had more to say, " Simon O’Neill and Eva-Maria Westbroek as the incestuous lovers Siegmund and Sieglinde, and they set the first act alight with blazing intensity. Every nuance of the discovery of their kinship is registered and their first physical contact is all the more thrilling for being delayed".

To read the full reviews please visit the links below: