Die Walküre, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, 23 July 2013

rah140x1051At both La Scala and the Berlin Staatsoper, I saw Daniel Barenboim conduct similar casts, in the same production by Guy Cassiers whose Walküre Act III is shown on the front cover of the BBC libretto. The Proms have brought over the Staatsoper orchestra from Berlin, which forms a terrific team with Barenboim conducting, and the visceral beat of cellos and basses at the beginning got us off to a fine start.

But while there are wonderful moments of great power, orchestra and singers also managed the quiet ones to perfection. After Siegmund has uttered his first words, Anja Kampe’s Sieglinde and the orchestra made full use of the stillness in the vast Albert Hall to craft a barely audible, yet very effective response. As a friend said to me on the way out, one forgets that Wagner has such moments, and Bryn Terfel as Wotan used them to huge effect at the beginning of his conversation with Brünnhilde in Act II. His portrayal of Wotan is, to my mind at least, superb. His diction, voice and body language all express the frustration, regret, anger, and overwhelming sadness that he feels. After explaining to Brünnhilde how Fricka had seen through the apparent stupidity of his scheme, and saying he yearns for das Ende, Terfel fell to his knees.

For strong moments it is difficult to beat the voice and superb diction of Eric Halfvarson as Hunding. His Heilig ist mein Herd was delivered with huge power, and his dismissal of Sieglinde, Fort aus dem Saal! was devastating. Simon O’Neill as Siegmund gave a highly accomplished performance, though I would have preferred more lyrical passion in Act I, but his questions for Brünnhilde in Act II were strongly delivered and his Grüße mir Walhall very nobly sung. As Sieglinde, Anja Kampe sang with huge commitment. In Act I her recollection of Siegmund’s voice, and his glance that reminded her of her father, were delivered with great conviction, and her Rette mich Kühne to Brünnhilde in Act III was riveting. Once again a terrific performance by Ekaterina Gubanova as Fricka, powerfully persuasive in her interaction with Wotan, and Nina Stemme was superbly eloquent with Wotan in Act III after a slightly uneven start in Act II.

As to the orchestra … well this was as good as it gets. After the brass hit the last chord at the end of Act I, the audience erupted in applause, and the orchestra played with huge lyricism just before Wotan’s Leb’ Wohl towards the end of Act III. What is it about the end of Walküre that produces such a stunning effect on the audience? When the last chord was over, there was utter silence in the vast hall. Not a peep from anyone, until Barenboim let his baton slowly down. The same thing happened in the Ring at Longborough. Sublime music, and an audience that could appreciate it. Wonderful.

See my review of RheingoldSiegfried and Götterdämerung continue on July 26 and 28.

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