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With a bang

04/02/2005 -  and 6, 9, 16, 20, 23, 27, 30 March 2005
Richard Wagner: Twilight of the Gods
Liane Keegan (First Norn), Yvonne Howard (Second Norn), Franzita Wheelan (Third Norn), Kathleen Broderick (Brünnhilde), Richard Berkeley-Steele (Siegfried), Iain Paterson (Gunther), Gidon Saks (Hagen), Claire Weston (Gutrune), Sara Fulgoni (Waltraute), Andrew Shore (Alberich), Linda Richardson (Woglinde), Stephanie Marshall (Wellgunde), Ethna Robinson (Flosshilde)

Paul Daniel (conductor), Phyllida Lloyd (director)

ENO Orchestra and Chorus

Phyllida Lloyd's Ring cycle has been distinctly on a human scale and lacking in cosmic grandeur, in spite of the monumental size of the Coliseum. The distinction between Wotan and Fricka in Rheingold and Gunther and Gutrune in The Twilight of the Gods turns out to be that between Thatcherite Docklands developers and Footballers' Wives, honest capitalist corruption and self-indulgent, self-parodic consumption. In between, we've had Hunding and Sieglinde in an underclass flat, Siegfried as Kevin the teenager and then as a bemused fifties husband at a Kellogg's-cornflakes-packet breakfast table with his new missus. There has always been a risk that the pleasure of recognizing the allusions (or irritation at their familiarity) might overwhelm understanding of the finely honed relationships they represent. But in the end, this Ring seems to have worked as a painfully intense human drama, at least for those who are prepared to accept it as such. The ring is shown to be as much a carrier of pain as of power, and all the pain is passed to Brünnhilde until she can only choose to end it all in the immolation and take the world with her.

Lloyd's decision to make the immolation a suicide bombing seems designed to provoke comment. One Sunday paper available less than an hour after the audience left the theatre reported on the predictable booing at the end, although it wasn't terribly audible in some parts of the house. Yet a suicide bombing is as good an embodiment as any of the love of death which underlies the world view of the Ring, from the building of Valhalla, the home of the glorious dead as well as Fricka's dream home, to the cannonade of murder in the last act of The Twilight of the Gods. The re-appearance of the Valkyries, and Brünnhilde's return to Valkyrie mode, at the end in this version suggests that the cult of death is somehow independent of Wotan's power, not a projection of patriarchy so much as something innate in humanity.

There was certainly a collective intake of breath when, surrounded by the other Valkyries, Waltraute passed Brünnhilde a Gaza waistcoat and detonator. But the shock was at least partly the result of the clarity of the idea, a final awareness that the Ring is indeed eventually shocking in the way it looks forward to the end of the world. The musical performances were edgy and febrile throughout, as generally through the rest of the cycle, and the tension built almost unbearably, fully justifying the final explosion.

Of the singers, Andrew Shore stood out as always as Alberich for his sinister incisiveness, his taunting of Hagen a vicious mirror of Wotan's terrible parenting. Gidon Saks was a superb, passionate Hagen, full of violence and guile. He also has a terrific rich voice that suggests he might well be a Wotan one day soon. Saks and Shore were the only singers who really got over the words. Iain Paterson was a stolid, slightly nasty Gunther, an appropriate brother for Clare Weston's chunky, full-voiced Gutrune. Richard Berkeley-Steele's Siegfried hadn't changed much from his teenage Siegfried incarnation: he looked perfectly at home skateboarding down the streets of an indeterminate city (Frankfurt or Seattle, maybe), and his persistent cheerfulness seemed to contribute directly to Brünnhilde's anger and his death. The three Norns, still old dears in a home, were impressively robust. If Liane Keegan is really planning to retire, as rumored, based on this performance she should reconsider, or rather, others should reconsider her.

Kathleen Broderick's Brünnhilde has turned out to be a truly remarkable performance. She has a large, if not lovely, voice that gets the notes increasingly easily, but she looks like a slightly severe Kylie Minogue, a perfect mixture of blooming maiden and womanly power. She is someone you always want to watch on stage, and her singing carries the full force of passion, exactly as Wagner intended.

HE Elsom



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