Posts Tagged ‘Royal Opera’

Nabucco, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2013

31 March, 2013

After Verdi’s dissatisfaction with his second opera he nearly gave up, but thank goodness he didn’t because this third one is magnificent, apart from its rather weak ending. Placing the action in the 1940s rather than the original setting of 586 BC is a good idea, but it never really gelled and I found Daniele Abbado’s new production disappointing.

Va pensiero

Va pensiero

The singing however was quite another matter. Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska was spectacular as Nabucco’s adopted daughter Abigail. Covent Garden audiences who remember her terrific Lady Macbeth from June 2011 will know what to expect, and she certainly provided it, giving huge colour to a bland production. Her recitative, aria and cabaletta at the start of Act II were riveting — her voice so expressive and powerful.

Her fellow Ukrainian, Vitalij Kowljow brought a full rich tone to the bass role of the Hebrew high priest Zaccaria, and Italian tenor Andrea Caré sang beautifully in the tenor role of Ismaele who is loved by both Abigail and her half-sister Fenena. Ismaele loves Fenena and although the heavy presence of Marianna Pizzolato in that role was rather lifeless, she sang with a lovely clarity of tone.

Royal Opera

Conducting by Nicola Luisotti showed great attention to the singers, and the chorus sang superbly, with a lovely Va pensiero in Act III. Leo Nucci as Nabucco showed very well the confusion that Solera’s libretto gives him after he calls himself a god, and then produced a glorious Act IV aria accepting the God of Israel. The cello solo when Abigail shows remorse was beautifully played, and Luisotti produced fine musicianship from the orchestra.

Zaccaria, Nabucco, Abigail

Zaccaria, Nabucco, Abigail

From the Amphitheatre the movements of the chorus looked rather contrived, with one group of people waiting to move forward before another group moved aside, though it may have appeared more natural from lower in the House. And the video projections were not fully visible from the front row of the Amphi rendering them only partially visible to nearly half the audience — no wonder it was not liked from the greater heights of La Scala. The fact that it’s a co-production with Milan, Barcelona and Chicago doesn’t surprise me in these days of austerity, but if resources are scarce perhaps we should leave such minimalist new productions to the English National Opera, with Covent Garden concentrating on bringing in world class singers, which they have done here to great effect.

Performances with this cast continue until April 8, and from April 15 to 26, Domingo takes over from Nucci — for details click here. On April 29 there will be a delayed live cinema screening, and it will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on June 8 at 6pm.

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Tosca with Opolais, Lee and Volle, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, 20 March 2013

21 March, 2013

In this new cast, Kristine Opolais and Yonghoon Lee complemented Michael Volle, who has sung Scarpia all this month at Covent Garden. From my previous experience of him in other bass-baritone roles (from Salome to Aida) he more than lived up to expectations, but it was Yonghoon Lee as Cavaradossi who was the new find of the evening.

All images ©ROH/ Tristram Kenton

The Act I set, all images ©ROH/ Tristram Kenton

From his Recondita armonia in Act I to his final moments in Act III this man was a revelation. His passion for Tosca was palpable, and after his glorious E lucevan le stelle in Act III, which he started very quietly and gently, he grasped at her when she appears with the safe conduct. Unlike the usual plump tenors, Yonghoon Lee is admirably slim, and he used his body to great effect. His Vittoria in Act II was the outburst of a committed young artist, his whole body showing passionate commitment, and emphasising the brutal mendacity of a police chief in the dying days of a lost regime. Then in the late moments of Act III standing with his back to the audience while the soldiers fire, he crumpled, his life blown away like the flame of a candle.

Scarpia in Act II

Scarpia in Act II

As Scarpia the police chief, Michael Volle’s characterisation and voice came over with huge power. From the dramatic sweep of his entrance in Act I to his grasp of a prize that eludes him and suddenly kills him in Act II, this was a great performance. Standing on the lower level near the Attavanti chapel in Act I you can see him thinking, and as the act closes his determination against the forces of the orchestra below, and of God on the upper level, came through with a certainty of success. Then in Act II as he moves into Ha più forte, expressing his relish for a violent conquest rather than soft surrender, we witness the dark forces impelling this man to destroy the individual liberty. When Kristine Opolais as Tosca kills him she does so with despatch, and her anxiety for the safe conduct and placing of the candles was beautifully done. She acted the entire role with great conviction, but vocally seemed not yet ideally suited to the heady drama of Tosca.

Among smaller roles, Jeremy White made a fine Sacristan, and among small matters of production, the slow steps of the firing squad in perfect time to the music, and Spoletta’s putting an arm out to stop the captain of the guard delivering a finishing shot, show great care for detail by revival director Andrew Sinclair.

This whole performance was a treat, but what really raised its level, apart from the singers, was Maurizio Benini in the orchestra pit. His conducting of Puccini’s wonderful score generated huge emotion, with gloriously powerful sounds from the orchestra at moments such as the point in Act I just before Tosca’s exit, and in Act II when Tosca finally realises what is going on in the other room, and in the crescendo as Scarpia presses her and she screams for the torture to stop.

This was a knock-out, and the vocal characterisations by Yonghoon Lee and Michael Volle are not to be missed. Unfortunately performances with this cast are sold out, but further ones with Serafin, Antonenko and Hendricks under the baton of Daniel Oren take place in July — for details click here.

Written on Skin, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2013

9 March, 2013

The ROH Insight Evening for this opera described it as being about sexual emancipation and jealousy with a tragic ending that they declined to specify. The emancipation angle is a good spin for modern audiences, but the story is an old one. A man treats his wife as a chattel and she experiences a sexual awakening with a younger man who works for him. This is the plot of Il Tabarro where the husband kills the lover, but here we also have a nasty epilogue.

All images ©ROH/ Stephen Cummiskey 2013

All images ©ROH/ Stephen Cummiskey 2013

The husband, or Protector as he calls himself, is a brutal man who talks about burning villages and making Jews wear yellow. He aims to protect ‘the family’, which in his constricted world is everything, and the young man is there to compose an illustrated manuscript about it. The family seems to reach back into a distant past that endowed him with the house, which he boasts is increasing in value daily. The wife is another matter. Suppressed and unable to grow, she finds an outlet in the young illustrator, and after her husband kills him he serves her his heart to eat. After she fights back, a slow motion scene at the end shows her ascending a staircase and we are told she falls to her death.

2.WRITTEN ON SKIN SC_4462 ROH HANNIGAN AS AGNES, MEHTA AS BOY, CLAYTON AS JOHN, SIMMONDS AS MARIE  (C) CUMMISKEY

The composer George Benjamin is English, but the music has a very French feel, and the opera was first produced to great acclaim at Aix-en-Provence last summer. There are resonances of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, and its sultry shifting soundscapes are interspersed with moments of fierce emotion. Benjamin himself conducted the orchestra, and although the score matched the words of Martin Crimp’s libretto it all seemed a bit pretentious with the characters, particularly the husband, singing as narrators in their own story.

Final moments

Final moments

Katie Mitchell’s production did very well to combine a distant past with the present day, the trees growing out of the parquet floor on the lower right suggesting the passing of centuries, while the black clad figures moving in slow motion in the upper left give a connection to the modern forensic world that studies past events. This was all realised in Vicki Mortimer’s excellent doll’s house design, very well lit by Jon Clark.

The singing was outstanding, and Christopher Purves managed to make the husband a more nuanced character than the libretto suggests. Both he and Barbara Hannigan as his wife Agnès came over with huge conviction, and Bejun Mehta sang a fine counter-tenor as the young man.

The problem with this first full scale opera by George Benjamin is its over-layering of meaning, with angels, and black-clad figures moving in slow motion. The effect is very clever, but insufficiently compelling, and the static intellectuality of this 95 minute work suffers by comparison with some other new operas I have seen in recent years at the ENO and the Royal Opera House Linbury Studio.

There will be a BBC Radio 3 broadcast of this opera on June 22, and four further performances on March 11, 16, 18, 22 — for details click here.

Eugene Onegin, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, February 2013

5 February, 2013

Artistic director Kasper Holten decided quite sensibly to take over the scheduled revival of an earlier production, and do something new. He was already endowed with some fine singers, so there were excellent performances here, including sympathetic conducting by Robin Ticciati.

Onegin, ROH images/ Bill Cooper

Onegin, all imags ROH/ Bill Cooper

Simon Keenlyside sang strongly as Onegin though the production prevented him from giving a full portrayal of the character. His Tatyana was Krassimira Stoyanova, who sang powerfully, but the production curtailed her dramatic interpretation by having an actress/ dancer portray the emotive moments. No such problems for Pavol Breslik as Lensky, who sang superbly; I loved his sincere apology to Madame Larina after challenging Onegin to a duel while being her guest, and his soliloquy at the start of Part II before the duel brought the house down.

Among the secondary roles, Tatyana’s nurse Filippyevna was beautifully sung by Kathleen Wilkinson, Zaretsky (Lensky’s second) was strongly portrayed by bass Jihoon Kim, and Peter Rose delivered a stunning monologue as Prince Gremin. Glorious singing then from cast, and chorus too, and with eyes closed, like one man near me, it was wonderful.

The production itself was a bit too clever as the director plays with time, flashbacks, and a dream world. It all starts before the overture with the mature Tatyana showing silent grief, and Onegin appearing on stage during the overture. In Scene 1 when he and Lensky arrive at the house it is Onegin who enters first, and replaces a book in a cupboard he has never seen before. Then Onegin reappears in the letter scene, as he does in Cranko’s ballet Onegin, which the ROH is currently performing, and though Simon Keenlyside is one of the few top rate singers who can do ballet lifts, the choreography seemed unnecessarily melodramatic in an opera context.

Lensky

Lensky

In the duel scene there are two Onegins, with Keenlyside as the mature one regretting the act, and an actor as the young one with a killer instinct. When Lensky is shot his body lies on stage for the rest of the opera, and in the final scene between Onegin and Tatyana, Prince Gremin appears as if in her imagination. Finally the young Tatyana and Onegin reappear as a bit of what-might-have-been, but to me a distraction.

Tatyana

Tatyana

Both Tatyanas wear a red dress throughout, with the mature one covered by a white ball gown in the last two scenes, and the chorus ladies in their voluminous black dresses reminded me of a Cromwellian Puritanism, which doesn’t seem to suit the story. The director has said part of his aim was to do it all on a tight budget, but in the past year I have seen enjoyably imaginative productions by Opera Holland Park and English Touring Opera, both of which work to very tight budgets.

As an opera director at Covent Garden, Kasper Holten has more to learn about sight-lines. Some of the action was entirely front stage-left and I met people who could not see it. Pity.

Performances continue until February 20 — for details click here.

Robert le Diable, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, December 2012

7 December, 2012

Before the first night of this hugely theatrical opera the ROH sent out a dramatic announcement saying they were “extremely grateful to Patrizia Ciofi, who has taken over the part of Isabelle at extremely short notice and will sing the role for the first four performances”. In the event she was wonderful, having sung the role before under conductor Daniel Oren, and as soon as she appeared in Act II, warmly vocal in her grief at the apparent loss of Robert, the whole performance rose to new heights.

Act I, all images ROH/ Bill Cooper

Act I, all images ROH/ Bill Cooper

Robert himself is a prey to forces beyond his control in the form of his demon father Bertram, and Alice, a Micaela-like character who adores him and brings a letter from his mother. That letter forms a small coup de theatre when she produces it in Act V. In the tug of war between her and Bertram, it persuades Robert to take her side, and go on to marry Isabelle, while Bertram is consigned to the fires of hell.

Congratulations to director Laurent Pelly for persuading the Royal Opera to put on this ‘Hollywood blockbuster’ as he has called it. It was a huge success at its first performance in 1831, remaining immensely popular throughout the nineteenth century, though unseen at Covent Garden since 1890. Could Pelly make it work, like Carmen, for a modern audience? Well, he can and he did.

Alice and Robert

Alice and Robert

He was helped by a superb cast, Bryan Hymel singing the very difficult role of Robert, which has seven high C’s in the first forty minutes, to say nothing of later exigencies of the role. Marina Poplavskaya sang beautifully as Alice after an uncertain start, looking serene, yet spitting defiance at John Relyea’s Bertram as she clung weakly to the cross in Act III. Relyea was superb, so full of menace as he threatens Alice, yet so urbane in his dealings with Robert as he persuades him to gamble away everything, before conjuring up the Prince of Granada, very well sung by Ashley Riches, to challenge him for Isabelle’s hand.

This opera reflects a nineteenth century view of the Middle Ages, cleverly signified by imagery at the very start. Two drinkers sit at a table, under a picture of a bottle of Vino di Sicilia labelled 1831, indicating the year of the opera and the location of the action in Sicily. The libretto was based on old legends of Robert of Normandy, father to William the Conqueror, and the star singers and sensational stage effects on at its first performances inspired Chopin to call it a masterpiece and doubt anything in the theatre had ever reached its level of splendour.

Bertram and Alice

Bertram and Alice

Pelly succeeds brilliantly with his production, the primary colours of the horses and the court ladies in the first two acts giving way to a heady German Romanticism in Act III showing mountainous terrain reminiscent of Der Freischütz, first seen in Paris seven years before Robert. The set turns, a cave appears, and inside the mountain devils use pitchforks to toss condemned souls to the flames of hell, in a scene reminiscent of the right panel of Hans Memling’s Day of Judgement. In Act V a beast of hell with flames in its mouth appears as a cardboard cut-out, and from the other side of the stage cut-out clouds bring on Alice. Battle between heaven and hell can commence, and Pelly has captured what for us is the kitsch nature of the opera, making it a theatrical treat.

Wonderful costumes by Pelly himself, with sets by Chantal Thomas beautifully lit by Duane Schuler who managed the trick of having Alice in the light, and Bertram in the dark as they come together in Act III. And then of course there is Meyerbeer’s music, superbly conducted by Daniel Oren. It worked its magic for me in Act IV as it evoked the play of higher powers, until arpeggios on the harp give a pause for reflection as Isabelle launches into a lovely aria professing her love for Robert.

Heaven versus Hell

Heaven versus Hell

Congratulations to the Royal Opera for giving us this hugely revitalised staging of a work that had a profound effect on both opera and ballet. The Act III music for the dance of the nuns reminded me of Løvenskiold’s La Sylphide, which it foreshadowed by a year. It was probably the first ballet ever performed with white tutus, and was a raunchy affair from which Maria Taglioni pulled out after her contracted six performances.

Timings in the cast list: Acts I and II 75 minutes, Act III 48, Acts IV and V 67 minutes, with two intermissions. That makes about 4 hours 35 minutes if the intervals are 30 minutes each, or less if they cut the length of the second interval, as they did on the first night.

Performances continue until December 21 — for details click here.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, November 2012

13 November, 2012

This 2007 Laurent Pelly production is set in 1950s Italy with Dulcamara, the charlatan purveyor of an elixir, arriving in an articulated lorry housing a mobile café. There are also bicycles, a moped and motor scooter, even a dog, giving a charmingly simple feel to the rural community.

In dress rehearsal for this second revival the movements of the supporting cast seemed unnatural, particularly in Act I, but musically it was another matter. Aleksandra Kurzak was a glorious Adina, sexily appealing in her stage presence, and prettily secure in her vocal work. Her Chiedi all’aura lusinghiera (Ask the flattering breeze) in the early duet with Nemorino was charmingly sung with flirtatious body movements.

All images ROH/ Catherine Ashmore

Bruno Campanella conducted with a sure but light touch, and I loved the addition of a motif from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde by Mark Packwood on the fortepiano continuo in Act II. This is after Nemorino appears, having drunk more of Dulcamara’s love potion, but Roberto Alagna in this role rather overplayed things, heaving hay bales and throwing himself to the stage in Act I and lurching around very drunk in Act II. As Dulcamara, Ambrogio Maestri was a joy to watch and hear, particularly having just seen him in a different production live from the Metropolitan Opera in New York. His duet with Aleksandra Kurzak in Act II was perfection, and Fabio Capitanucci was a fine Sergeant Belcore, interacting well with the rest of the cast.

Forthcoming performances promise to be vocally delightful, but I hope the production comes over more convincingly in Act I. Those cyclists riding from stage right to left, and back again, several times, pretending they are merely passing by, and the man on top of Dulcamara’s vehicle flapping furiously with a cloth to no apparent purpose, were unnecessary distractions. Comments on the staging in later performances are welcome.

Performances continue until December 7 — for details click here.

Götterdämmerung, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2012

2 October, 2012

Under Antonio Pappano’s direction the orchestra gave us a lyrical and multi-layered interpretation of Wagner’s score, ranging from soft moments to huge power.

Norns, all images ROH/ Clive Barda

After the prologue with the Norns, followed by Brünnhilde and Siegfried, things really opened out in Act I with John Tomlinson as Hagen in the hall of the Gibichungs. He was riveting as he explains to his half brother and sister, Gunther and Gutrune, how they might win fabulous partners. Too fabulous of course, but they are easily fooled by this son of Alberich, who then gave a superb monologue as he sits to keep watch, ending deeply and darkly with des Niebelungen Sohn (the Niebelung’s son). Dimly lit, he remains sitting for the rest of the act as Brünnhilde is first visited by Waltraute and then by Siegfried’s transformation as Gunther.

Mihoko Fujimura as Waltraute showed wonderful stage presence and diction along with huge strength and purity of tone, outshining the uncertain stage presence and excessive vibrato of Susan Bullock’s Brünnhilde. She rose effortlessly over the orchestra, ending with a wonderfully defiant Walhalls Göttern weh! (Woe to the gods of Valhalla).

Brünnhilde with the Gibichungs

In Act II, Tomlinson as Hagen steals the show, quietly of course at first when he is addressed by his father Alberich, very assertively sung by Wolfgang Koch in a little boat in the air, like a one-eyed, heavy-set version of the Mekon. As the Gibichung scenes follow, with Stefan Vinke as a boldly ingenuous Siegfried, Peter Coleman-Wright as a grandiosely weak Gunther, and Rachel Willis-Sørensen as a very strongly sung Gutrune, Tomlinson once again became the focus with a powerful call to the vassals. After Brünnhilde arrives his gaze follows her, and when he persuades her and Gunther that the only solution is Siegfried’s death, his voice took on extraordinary colour.

In Act III Stefan Vinke as Siegfried has just the right tone and bolshy attitude when meeting the Rheinmaidens, and when the hunters arrive he gives a fine account of his earlier life, urged on by Hagen. Hagen’s murder of Siegfried and subsequent attempt to grab the ring from him was very effective, and the orchestra then swept us forward with a superb funeral march. Weakness only occurs later at the hall of the Gibichungs where instead of Brünnhilde dominating Gutrune, Rachel Willis-Sørensen had the more powerful stage presence, though after feebly raising an arm just before Starke Scheite, Susan Bullock as Brünnhilde sang strongly at the end.

The final scene of Keith Warner’s production has Hagen taking the ring from Brünnhilde only to be overwhelmed by the Rheinmaidens. Images of the gods are suspended over fires, and young people come onto stage as if representing a new world order, but I would prefer the music without too much imagery. All in all, however, a memorable Ring cycle under Pappano’s musical direction, and a nice touch at the end was the entire orchestra appearing on stage for the curtain calls.

There are three further Ring cycles, the final Götterdämmerung being on November 2 — for details click here. There will also be a live broadcast on Radio 3 on Wednesday, October 24 at 3:45 pm, and Christmas broadcasts of Acts I, II and III on January 2, 3 and 4 at 4:30 pm.

Siegfried, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2012

30 September, 2012

Wotan’s meeting with Erda that starts Act III of Siegfried is a focal point in his demise.  After awakening her for advice she tells him to ask Brünnhilde, their daughter bold and wise, but learning Wotan has cast her aside, she asks why he who taught defiance punished defiance, why he who ruled by vows now rules by perjury. Wotan responds angrily, and in most productions Erda simply sinks back down into the earth, but in Keith Warner’s staging he stabs her in the side with his spear and she slumps over the side of her throne.

Act I, all images ROH/ Clive Barda

This deeply flawed Wotan, whose downfall may be represented by the crash-landed aeroplane we see in Act I, was superbly portrayed and sung by Bryn Terfel, and his encounters with Mime in Act I, Alberich in Act II, and Siegfried in Act III were beautifully represented. While Wotan is the key to this opera, the cast was a strong one despite the illness of Wolfgang Koch as Alberich, which led to an interesting last minute scramble.

According to Kasper Holten, who appeared on stage before the start, Koch informed the ROH this morning that he would be unable to sing, so they flew Jochen Schmeckenbecher in from Vienna. Holten smilingly told us he was already on his way through passport control, and from the wings in Act II, with Koch acting the role on stage, he gave a fine performance.

As Mime, Gerhard Siegel was in excellent voice, his acting superb, and in Act II this scheming liar dons an ass’s head whenever he speaks his true thoughts to Siegfried. This is a nice aspect of the production, as is the representation of Fafner. After he puts on the tarnhelm, turns into a dragon and is fatally wounded, Siegfried places the helm on the floor, lifts it up and the head continues to sing. Later he brings the dead head to stage front, placing it next to the body of Mime. While still alive, Eric Halfvarson sang a wonderful Fafner, his deep notes carrying an air of otherworldly wisdom and menace. Lovely singing from Sophie Bevan as the Woodbird, and her clever contemporaneous contortions on the trapeze were a wonder to behold.

Woodbird and Siegfried

She interacted well with Siegfried, whom Stefan Vinke portrayed to perfection as a strong brash fellow. His powerful singing had a great clarity of tone, and he seemed entirely at ease on stage. Sadly this was not so true for Susan Bullock’s Brünnhilde, and though her voice showed charm, particularly in unaccompanied passages, her stage presence failed to convey the power of this role. Whether she will have the imperious glance to face down Gutrune in Act III of Götterdämmerung remains to be seen on Monday.

End of Act III

The orchestra was on top form under Antonio Pappano’s direction, giving great support to the singers, and I loved the percussion work by Stefan Vinke’s Siegfried as he tempers the sword. A wonderful performance all round, and such a pity that Bryn Terfel is now out of it. His response to the thunderous applause was admirably restrained, and he seems to be happy to be just one of an excellent team.

There are four Ring cycles, the final Siegfried being on October 31 — for details click here. There will also be a live broadcast on Radio 3 on Sunday, October 21 at 2:45 pm, and Christmas broadcasts of Acts I, II and III on December 28, 31 and January 1 at 4:30 pm.

Die Walküre, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2012

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.

Valkyries, all images ROH/ Clive Barda

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.

Siegmund and Sieglinde

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.

Valkyries and Terfel as Wotan

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.

Das Rheingold, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2012

25 September, 2012

This prologue to Wagner’s Ring promises a feast of fine singing and acting in the remaining three operas of the cycle.

All images ROH/ Clive Barda

Alberich and Rheinmaidens, all images ROH/ Clive Barda

Bryn Terfel sang as well or better than I have ever heard him in the role of Wotan, emphasising maturity and self-awareness, showing he realises he has set in motion something against which the treaties on his spear will be powerless. His acting left the audience in no doubt that they were witnessing the start of something very dangerous, confirmed by Loge’s later warning when he sings of the gods hastening to their end.

As Wotan’s wife Fricka, Sarah Connolly sang beautifully, giving the role a hugely feminine charm, and in two days time it will be intriguing to see how she and Terfel interact in their difficult conflict during Act II of Walküre. Such a pity however that fratricide has removed Iain Paterson’s magnificent Fasolt. His engaging appearance in flat cap, carrying a measuring rod of five cubits length, was well matched by his superbly lyrical singing, and when Fafner strikes him down we see the action very clearly as he falls forward against the glass wall facing us.

Gods and telescope

This is one of many fine aspects to Keith Warner’s production, revived by the director himself. The descent to Niebelheim is accomplished by the floor rising, revealing a coldly lit, colourless realm where a cadaver lies on a hospital trolley, and Alberich rapes a woman tied down to another trolley, though Wotan eventually sets her free. Niebelheim is a thoroughly nasty world, but this production also has its light moments. Alberich’s transformations using the tarnhelm are amusingly effective, and right at the end of the opera, the shrewd but flippant Loge takes one of Freia’s golden apples, slices it, and cooks it in a frying pan!

Valhalla awaits

In the meantime Antonio Pappano’s conducting has moved the action smoothly forward, making two and a half hours seem like nothing at all, particularly with such very fine singing from the whole cast. Gerhard Siegel made a superb return to the role of Mime, but many of the cast were new. Wolfgang Koch and Eric Halfvarson sang strongly, making their House debuts  in the bass roles of Alberich and Fafner, and Maria Radner sang a glorious Erda. Stig Andersen made a cheekily lively, if somewhat ungainly Loge, Ann Petersen sang with real feeling in the relatively minor role of Freia, and among the Rheinmaidens I particularly liked Harriet Williams in the role of Flosshilde as she sings seductively to Alberich.

Word has it that the entire cast for this Ring is rehearsing very strongly both in terms of singing and acting, and I eagerly await the next three operas.

There are four Ring cycles, the final Rheingold being on October 26 — for details click here.