Die Walküre - Royal Opera House, 26 September 2012
Is unintentional humour the most authentic element of any modern Ring production? After all, 19th century Bayreuth audiences split their corsets guffawing at the sadly literal ‘special effects’ sanctioned by Wagner himself. Brünnhilde’s entrance in Wednesday’s Die Walküre continued the tradition.
As if descending a ladder in a maxidress with the triumphant air of having accomplished a particularly tricky lightbulb change wasn’t entertaining enough all by itself, Susan Bullock then failed to detach herself from her clunky safety harness. As her pawing grew more frantic, a stagehand slipped into view and decoupled her as she ho-jo-to-ho'd her greeting.
She never quite recovered. Although the skills of the ROH makeup team have made a credible amazon of this Mrs Tiggywinkle, the vocal glamour was limited and the highest notes a stretch. Despite, or perhaps because of, an outstanding monologue from Bryn Terfel, the final act felt unbalanced.
But the evening got off to a fabulous start. Eva Maria Westbroek was in fine voice. Sir John Tomlinson made a brutal and terrifying Hunding. Simon O’Neill’s front-on death wound to the armpit was a fitting end to some pantoesque acting, but the vocal range of Siegmund allowed him to display more of his authentically heroic lower register and less of his pinched top.
Best of all, the orchestra were on fire even before the stage burst into flames for the finale. With the tuba banished to the other side of the pit, I still had the full set of horns blaring into my ear, but the imbalance was far less marked than in Das Rheingold. The playing was crisp and propulsive; the tempi again perfectly judged. Only the Walkürenritt was a slight disappointment, some untidy playing matched by an unexpected but uninspired switch to minimalism in the stage design. Can Pappano can maintain this level of energy and inspiration for the rest of the cycles?
production photos (above) Clive Barda for Royal Opera House
curtain call photos (below) intermezzo.typepad.com