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Ay fond kiss

Theatre Royal
09/06/2003 -  and 1 November
Richard Wagner: Die Walküre

Jan Kyhle (Siegmund), Marie Plette (Sieglinde), Carsten Stabell (Hunding), Matthew Best (Wotan), Elizabeth Byrne (Brünnhilde), Anne Mason (Fricka), Sarah Rhodes (Gerhilde), Rachel Hynes (Helmwige), Jane Irwin (Waltraute), Kathleen Wilkinson (Schwertleite), Mary Callan Clarke (Ortlinde), Clare Shearer (Siegrune), Yvonne Lea (Grimgerde), Leah Marian Jones (Rossweisse)

Scottish National Opera orchestra

Richard Armstrong (conductor), Tim Albery (director)

After the cerebral comedy of Das Rheingold, Die Walküre moves the Ring into "proper" operatic territory: adulterous passion, revenge, ironic ignorance and recognition. There is still a grand scheme in play, the working out of necessity and the tragic futility of Wotan's attempts to avoid it, the struggle between love and power, but the events blow up into self-contained scenes of grand passion. The desire of Sieglinde and Siegmund is a summary of all previous love duets, from Monteverdi to Verdi, as well as a model for all future ones, while Brünnhilde's rebellion against Wotan is a daughter-father engagement perhaps more fraught that any of Verdi's.

Tim Albery's admirably lucid production keeps the action lean. There is again a kind of televisual realism: Siegmund takes refuge in a council flat, perhaps, where Sieglinde strives for domestic warmth in spite of Hunding's chilly brutality; Wotan wakes Brünnhilde with a shower of rose petals in a loft apartment from which she flees when up-market Fricka shows up in a white suit. There are no flying horses, indeed no horses at all, and the Valkyries' rock is equipped only with a tap and a refrigerator full of beer. The Valkyries are muscular gels who cover up biker gear with uniform white shirts when Daddy approaches. More obviously than in Rheingold, the sexual politics is presented in terms that are likely to work for an audience today, short-circuiting the need for a knowledge of the putative mythological or ideological background. There is no marking of the incestuous nature of the desire of Siegmund and Sieglinde, just as there isn't in the words and music, except when Fricka makes her partisan complaint about it. Everything is so fresh and well judged that, as the positive response to the production in all quarters suggests, it must be possible for the most devoted Wagnerite to watch this production as if seeing the work for the first time.

The orchestra under Richard Armstrong maintained their strong performance, although here there was less sense of something new. The most familiar boom-and-sweep music was delivered with energy rather than insight, although of course, the Valkyries in particular have an elemental lack of self-awareness as positive qualities. Perhaps as a result, the first act was seamless and timeless, while time kicked in again in the second and third acts, although they were always engaging.

Marie Plette was a luscious, rather earth-motherly Sieglinde, a match in intensity and fluidity for Jan heroic Kyhle's Siegmund. Carsten Stabell, who was a sonorous automaton of a Fasolt in Rheingold, was truly scary as Hunding. Anne Mason, looking glamorous after years of sterling service singing old bags, was an increasingly bitter and lucid Fricka, while Matthew Best's Wotan was even more arrogant and sentimental than before. His relationship with Elizabeth Byrne's Brünnhilde was recognisably that of a middle-aged patriarch and his adult daughter not quite past being a teenager, painfully human in spite of the pseudo-theological baggage. Byrne was striking, endearing, androgynously handsome and vocally elegant if not quite heroic, Brünnhilde as a normal modern woman torn between self-respect and the lure of submission to patriarchy. Her performance was the one in this production that Wagner probably could not have imagined, but it seemed inevitable and right. Her jolly sisters were (appropriately) less complex and thoroughly entertaining.

HE Elsom



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