thu 30/06/2022

Die Walküre, LPO, Jurowski, RFH review - love shines out | reviews, news & interviews

Die Walküre, LPO, Jurowski, RFH review - love shines out

Die Walküre, LPO, Jurowski, RFH review - love shines out

A fast-beating heart serves Wagner's second Ring opera well

Jurowski in control with Markus Marquardt's Wotan bidding farewell to Svetlana Sozdateleva's BrünnhildeAll images of final rehearsal by Simon Jay Price

Harpers on the undeniably offensive aspect of Wagner the man might question attending a concert performance of his second Ring opera on World Holocaust Day. Fortunately there's nothing anti-semitic to be found anywhere in Die Walküre.

As embodied by the cruel and tender score, the poet-composer's transformation of barbaric Northern mythology into the most essential of themes for our or any time - the power of love versus the love of power (not my coinage, but says it all) - is pure compassionate genius. It's crystallised in an interpretation as phenomenal as that of Vladimir Jurowski - too radical to be to every taste at every point, but a gleaming London Philharmonic Orchestra was always beautifully balanced and reached to the profound heart of this great tragedy where it mattered.

As did all the singers, to varying degrees. The fulcrum of the work, at a crucial point in a long middle act which Jurowski brilliant describes as "an Ibsen play put inside a Homer epic", comes when a passionate human love between chief god Wotan’s twin children by a mortal woman makes itself felt to his favourite warrior-maiden daughter Brünnhilde, the Valkyrie of the title and his personified conscience. She comes to tell outcast hero Siegmund he must die in combat and follow her to Valhalla, but is convinced by his refusal to leave his sister Sieglinde behind that she has to try and save him. The so-called Todesverkundigung or Annunciation of Death was the point in this performance where profundity hit for the first time. A completely silent and intense audience helped – Wagnerians tend to book early – while Jurowski’s subtle atmospheric force field allowed two striking singers, heroic tenor Stuart Skelton and a dramatic soprano of striking stage presence, with exactly the “searing glance” needed for the supernatural Valkyrie, Svetlana Sozdateleva, to give of their vocal and dramatic best. Stuart Skelton and Ruxandra Donose in the Southbank RingAct One, the first human love-drama of the Ring, had brought assurance of perfect phrasing from individual LPO players – outstanding clarinet and solo cello especially, shaped but not over-indulged by Jurowski – in the first half and some speedy eroticism in the second. Too fast, perhaps, for clear string articulation in Siegmund’s lyric apostrophe to spring and the very end, I thought. Skelton has to summon all his resources for the desperate cry to the father he knows only as Wälse, but no other Siegmund today can match him for an intelligent range of vocal colours and dramatic detail in the delivery of the text. Ruxandra Donose (pictured above with Skelton) is by no means the first mezzo Sieglinde, and it paid off; her presence was warm and telling, the top notes – there's only one note above the A all good mezzos should manage, a top A sharp (or B flat) in the third act – full and passionate when necessary.

Total Wagnerian perfection in a nutshell came from Stephen Milling (pictured below), making his mark with huge authority as the brute husband who treats his wife as a chattel. But there were enough sympathetic lights in the voice to suggest that this leading Hunding and Hagen of our time might follow John Tomlinson’s lead and tackle Wotan. Stephen Milling as HundingThe eventual incumbent of this colossal role at relatively short notice, Markus Marquardt, is more baritone than bass, which meant that the lower reaches in which his huge Act Two monologue of past events begins could be lost. He may have had the manner of a peevish sergeant major rather than a cosmically weary-furious god, but the burnished upper register and some fine phrasing were world-class in the final confrontation with his disobedient daughter. Many Wotans have tired vocally at this point, but Marquardt crowned his achievement with the longest line of all right at the end of his contribution. The confrontation with propriety-obsessed wife Fricka passed in a flash, due in no small measure to the vibrant delivery of Claudia Manke (pictured below) and the positive side of Jurowski’s concern to keep everything on the move. Claudia Mahnke in Southbank WalkureUnder the directorial supervision of Jurowski, with sparse but poetic back-projections by Pierre Martin, men, women and gods took their places both at the front of the stage and around the organ console behind an orchestra placed – usefully for perfect balance –on the flat stage, double basses centre back. The upper level may have been useful to suggest mid-air Valkyrie action, but it robbed all the “Hoiotoho” battle cries of their full flaming impact. Opera North’s concert staging in the same hall may have been more static, and too uniformly out-front, but it proved that there’s nothing more thrilling than eight, then ten, female voices singing right at you at full pelt. Jurowski’s Valkyries couldn’t be sufficiently heard to predict future Brünnhildes (there was one already present, in fact, Alwyn Mellor, kicking off as Gerhilde), but still the orchestral aspect of the Ride was – rightly – more air than earth, the climax truly resplendent. Then there was slight regret as Donose couldn't quite put across the full spendour of Sieglinde's apostrophe to Brünnhilde as "most glorious of women" from that distance, though she sang it superbly (pictured below, Sozdateleva and Donose flanked by Sinéad Campbell-Wallace as Helmwige and Susan Platts as Schwertleite).Valkyries and Sieglinde in Southbank Ring

What genius when Wagner melts down the fury of the act’s first half to leave a handful of woodwind sorrowing with Brünnhilde as she awaits her punishment. Sozdateleva kept the meaning and the anguish at full intensity even when the voice didn’t always quite do what she wanted, technique-wise; her charisma carried all before it. The spare but perfect use of two chairs on either side of Jurowski let us see how one woman tyrannized by a man mirrors the other, Sieglinde in Act Two, in sleep. But of course Brünnhilde wins her victory from the ultimately grief-stricken, tender father, crowning Wagner’s strong feminist sympathies to be worked through in the next two operas. And though again Jurowski chose to take the sleep music a little fast, for my taste at least, the orchestral magic was as luminous as it can be, with spellbindingly soft descending chords to preface it. A year seems a long time to wait for Jurowski’s Siegfried. Let’s hope in that time he changes his mind about the Ring opera he so far likes least. You can be sure that whatever his attitude it will all be beautifully prepared and lustrously executed.


“Ruxandra Donose (pictured above with Skelton) is by no means the first mezzo Sieglinde, and it paid off; her presence was warm and telling, the top notes – the role doesn’t go above an A – full and passionate when necessary.” She sang the written B flat in Act 3 too....

OK, there are other ways to tell me that. I'll adjust.

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