Die Walküre, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2012Posted on 27 September 2012
A pivotal point in Wagner’s Ring is Act II scene 1 in Walküre where Fricka faces her husband Wotan. A strong presence is vital here and Sarah Connolly gave a superb portrayal, avoiding the danger of playing her as overbearing but firmly and gently persuading her husband that he is in serious error. It was beautifully done, and she kisses him before he asks Was verlangst du? Her demand that he abandon the Wälsung finally succeeds, and as the scene ends, Bryn Terfel’s Nimm den Eid (Take my oath) was sung with a gravelly resignation.
His representation of Wotan is more mature than during initial performances of this Keith Warner production seven or eight years ago, and he ranged from gentleness to fury with great conviction. In talking to Brünnhilde in Act II scene 2 he showed serious introspection as he sings of giving up his work and longing only for das Ende! Recalling the words of Erda that allude to Hagen’s birth signalling the end of the gods, moves him to real anger, and his In meinem Busen berg’ ich den Grimm (In my heart I hide the fury) was delivered with huge effect. The orchestral ending of that scene under Pappano’s direction was superb.
As Brünnhilde, Susan Bullock started rather nervously after the misfortune of needing help from a stagehand to detach her harness, but for a performer to make her first entrance down a forty-foot ladder is surely a bit of an ordeal. She warmed up later, and at the start of Act III scene 3 her War es so schmählich (Was it so shameful), delivered initially without orchestral accompaniment, was beautifully sung.
The final ending was an orchestral triumph, and so was the beginning with Pappano delivering a feisty prelude including wonderful thunder from the kettledrum after Siegmund enters, and beautiful playing from the solo cello. When John Tomlinson later enters as Hunding, driving his axe into the table, the drama moves into top gear and his initial Du labtest ihn? was unusually powerful. Followed by his Heilig ist mein Herd (Holy is my hearth), including a brief handshake with Siegmund, it became quite clear who was master here. A hugely commanding portrayal, only rivalled by La Scala’s new production in December 2010 with — wait for it — Tomlinson again. Yet in Act II after facing Siegmund with Wotan taking a hand, he suddenly shows uncertainty and fear, and rightly so as Wotan drives his spear into him, having done the same to Siegmund.
As Siegmund himself, Simon O’Neill gave a moving performance, singing with huge conviction and animation, and with fine chemistry between him and Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde. Faced later with Brünnhilde in Act II his So grüsse mir Walhall (Then greet Valhalla for me) was simply riveting. When Sieglinde awakes, the stage is suffused with new energy, and in Act III her emotional O hehrstes Wunder! Herrlichste Maid! was beautifully delivered, with a lovely ringing quality to her top notes.
Altogether a super Walküre, grounded by Bryn Terfel’s brilliant performance as Wotan. We shall miss him in the final opera, but his reappearance as the Wanderer in Siegfried on Saturday is eagerly anticipated.
There are four Ring cycles, the final Walküre being on October 28 — for details click here. There will also be a live broadcast on Radio 3 on October 18 at 4:45 pm, and Christmas broadcasts of Acts I, II and III on December 25, 26 and 27 at 4:30 pm.