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Wagner: Die Walküre (The Royal Opera)
Stuart Skelton (Siegmund); Emily Magee (Sieglinde); John Lundgren (Wotan); Nina Stemme (Brünhilde); Sarah Connolly (Fricka); Ain Anger (Hunding); Alwyn Mellor (Gerhilde); Lise Davidsen (Ortlinde); Kai Ruutel (Waltraute); Claudia Huckle (Schwertleite); Maida Hundeling (Helmwige); Catherine Carby (Siegrune);
Die Walküre is the second work and ‘first evening’ of Richard Wagner’s four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, following Das Rheingold. It has become the most performed opera of the cycle, loved and admired for its nuanced and intelligent exploration of complex family entanglements, expressed through music of astonishing power – perhaps nowhere more so than in the glorious music for the incestuous lovers Siegmund and Sieglinde.
Wotan’s voyage of self-discovery and ultimate resignation are at the heart of Keith Warner’s production, created for The Royal Opera in 2005. Wotan’s great Act II monologue is set in the abandoned former home of the gods, seen in Das Rheingold, whose evident disorder and damage present a striking representation of Wotan’s own inner decline and the gods’ incipient twilight. Recurring objects and visual motifs reflect the use of musical themes within Wagner’s score, which shows the composer at his most radical and most lyrical.
"With Die Walküre, in Keith Warner’s enthralling Covent Garden production of Wagner’s Ring, you can really sense the tectonic plates beginning to shift. Sarah Connolly’s Fricka has become one of the production’s highpoints: she conveys the bitter anger of marital betrayal in every phrase and every stiffened joint. Nina Stemme’s Brünnhilde is also tremendously accomplished, reflecting the gamut of emotions in facial expression and vocal line alike. John Lundgren deploys his lean, virile tone intelligently as Wotan. Antonio Pappano continues to complement this outstanding staging with his wonderfully fluid conducting. The Ride of the Valkyries, here a boisterous brood, was for once visceral and thrilling." (The Evening Standard ★★★★)
"Sarah Connolly is at the peak of her considerable powers as Fricka, delivering a performance of naked manipulation and mezzo power that would make any opponent crumble – even John Lundgren's Wotan... In this second opera he absolutely needs to fire on all cylinders because he has to hold his own throughout one of the most intense duo scenes that even Wagner ever wrote, and to do so opposite the great Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde. The Swedish pair sets Covent Garden alight with their sustained firepower until, at the end, Wotan's literal encirclement of flames springs to life. ...the leading Heldentenor [Stuart Skelton] of our day gives an expertly dramatised performance in firm, clarion-resonant fettle. And in Ain Anger the company has located a balefully magnificent Hunding to confront him. The eight Valkyries make a fabulous sound – unsurprisingly, given that between them they've sung their own host of Brünnhildes, Brangänes, Erdas and Ariadnes." (WhatsOnStage ★★★★)
"A tenor and a baritone (or, in this case, a bass) vie melodiously for possession of the girl. It’s not exactly Wagner’s greatest piece of operatic innovation, but with the tenor and bass in question being Stuart Skelton and Ain Anger, the first act of Die Walküre was sheer bel canto bliss. And yes, I do mean bel canto. As Skelton paced the stage in suitably lupine fashion, what rang out was a truly beautiful voice which remained lovely through anguish and fury, tenderness and passion. Skelton’s long overdue Royal Opera debut has been eagerly anticipated, and not without reason: this was accomplished with panache. [John Lundgren's] his voice had nuance, clarity of diction and, most importantly, authority. I don’t think one could ask for a pair of antagonists more imperious than Lundgren’s Wotan and Dame Sarah Connolly’s Fricka: the ebb and flow of the power struggle between them was as dramatically convincing as it was musically thrilling. It’s hard to find new words for Nina Stemme’s Brünnhilde. Suffice to say that the beauty of her timbre, her phenomenal understanding of how the music fits around the text and her sheer vocal stamina were in every way up to our most exalted expectations. Her final duet with Wotan was equally convincing in a power struggle of a very different kind, a contest between tenderness and fate (at least as Wotan perceives it). The final farewell was overpoweringly poignant. From the very first notes, we knew we were in safe hands, with the pounding, driving cellos and basses and the soaring brass as Siegmund flees through the storm. From then on, it just kept getting better, the pace maintained and the full palette of orchestral colours shining brightly: however great the curtain call cheers were for Skelton and Stemme, the ones for Pappano were louder. With vocal performances at the very highest level, this was a Walküre to remember." (Bachtrack ★★★★★)
"Connolly’s claim over the music of Brünnhilde’s arrival to delight in Wotan’s despair was a highlight of the evening, and her ownership of the part since its 2012 revival is as absolute as her mastery of her husband. Everyone involved likewise raised their game in partnership with Stemme, for whom this is, incredibly, her first fully staged Brünnhilde in the UK. Daniel Barenboim’s Proms Ring in 2013 offered just a foretaste of what British audiences have been missing, a complete Brünnhilde for our time, impetuous from the outset yet never aggressive, blending with a superb team of Valkyries (pictured above), always learning and drawing strength from the characters around her. From now on, the Ring is her story." (The Arts Desk ★★★★)
"Nina Stemme is positively radiant as the chief god’s favourite daughter and her ‘Hojotohos’ have wonderful polish. She and Skelton deliver the best singing of the evening, and their scene together in Act II is sensitively rendered as Brünnhilde, who had never questioned that the greatest ending for any mortal was to be served mead in Valhalla, has her values shaken to such an extent that she chooses to take Siegmund’s side. Above all this stands John Lundgren’s Wotan. At the start of Act II he still seems like the god we saw in Das Rheingold, happy to cling to tainted plans in order to prevail as (in this production) the Walküre run around him. This is why his encounter with Fricka feels so important here because, although he has clearly agonised over the thoughts that he subsequently proclaims in his monologue for some time, it is the realisation that he cannot help Siegmund that forces him to challenge who he is as much as how he behaves. Once again, Lundgren asserts his firm, dark and direct bass-baritone to extremely good effect." (Musicomh.com)
"There were moments in Die Walküre at the Royal Opera House when the audience was entirely still and only Antonio Pappano’s periodic gasps broke the surface of Wagner’s score. When the low brass cohered into a single heavy tread that swept up everything in its path. When Nina Stemme’s fearless Brünnhilde gazed at sword point into the eyes of the hero she had been commanded to lead into death and the physical chemistry on stage was instantly charged. When John Lundgren’s Wotan, flawed but tenacious, sank to his knees, voice flagging: an all-too-human god pathetically stricken." (The Guardian)
Why The Royal Opera love performing Die Walküre; What it's like performing The Ring Cycle with the Orchestra of The Royal Opera House; The musical secrets of Wagner's Die Walküre; Cast Gallery