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Edinburgh Festival Walkure
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Mike Scott Rohan
2017-08-09 13:40:36 UTC
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Still reverberating... I spent Sunday evening at one of the finest Wagner performances I've ever seen, a concert Walkure in the Usher Hall, packed to the roof. The Festival audiences are international and notoriously hard to please. After sitting in utter silence, worthy of Bayreuth as was, at the end of Act I this one erupted in one unanimous roar. If they were slightly more restrained after Act II, at the end of III everyone was on their feet at once. It was simply one of the most passionate, deeply felt and finely acted performances I've ever seen, and that without set, costume or props -- although the cast did use the entire width of the concert platform to good effect, singing without scores and reacting to one another rather than just facing the audience. Reacting and a half, too -- Siegmund and Sieglinde fell into a huge clinch at the end of Act I with tears streaming down her face, and I think his too; Wotan towering over Brunnhilde in fist-clenching tension... I've been trying to write a really full review, but it my just sound like gush; it isn't. It really was that good.

This was the cast, and not only were there no weak links, none of them were less than superb. At least three of the Valkyries are capable Brunnhildes in their own right (and, like Fricka, also Scottish!).

Sir Andrew Davis, Conductor
Simon O'Neill, Siegmund
Matthew Rose, Hunding
Sir Bryn Terfel, Wotan
Amber Wagner, Sieglinde
Christine Goerke, Brünnhilde
Karen Cargill, Fricka
Lee Bisset, Gerhilde
Katherine Broderick, Helmwige
Elaine McKrill, Ortlinde
Judit Kutasi, Grimgerde
Andrea Baker, Rossweisse
Madeleine Shaw, Siegrune
Jennifer Johnston, Waltraute
Claudia Huckle, Schwertleite
Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Several of them surprised me. Davis can be rather a sedate conductor at times; not here! This was a dynamic, theatrical performance, pretty brisk but well paced and lyrical. And while the RSNO can compare with most European orchestras normally, here they were playing in the big league; they made the Maryinsky Orchestra in last year's Rheingold sound inferior, and that isn't easy. It helped that they were playing with the full orchestration, including all six harps and a steerhorn. Simon O'Neill I didn't think that much of when I first heard his recordings, but changed my mind after a Gurrelieder last year -- and here he was even finer, steely and ringing but almost always unstrained and fine-toned. Maybe a little Vickersesque nasality in Act II, but that's nit-picking. Karen Cargill was a world-class Fricka, of the domineering variety. Matthew Rose, the only one with a score, was just as good a Hunding, very black-voiced. Christine Goerke hasn't got a big Nilsson-like voice, but that's all to the good; she sounded properly young, feminine and vulnerable, but with plenty of power for the big moments. There's been a lot of talk lately about Terfel's Wagner -- "strained", "fading power" and so on; and one or two broadcasts I've caught have seemed to back this up. Not so here! His tone might be less warm and somewhat darker than it was, but he sang with tremendous power, and much finer, richer, lower register than before. And his acting... I've seen a lot of Wotans, but I don't think anyone better, and it made quite a few well-known names look pale by comparison. This was a man at the end of his tether, pulled this way and that by conflicting demands and emotions, and reacting with terrible force; but the essential warmth was always there, beneath the desperation and the danger. You believed in it throughout. His superb diction also helped; I've never heard so much of the words in Act II. He was the lynchpin of the performance; but one performer made an even bigger impression, and that was Amber Wagner, from Oregon. Right from her entrance her voice made me sit up, and the sheer passion of her performance was stunning; when I looked up her biography afterwards I saw why -- Elsa at the Met, among other things. She hasn't got the physique du role, exactly, but you hardly notice; she looks young and she can act. Definitely one to watch. More than all of them individually, though, was the sense of ensemble and sheer chemistry. There seems to have been considerable back-stage camaraderie, to judge from the daft blog:

https://www.eif.co.uk/blog/2017/14-times-cast-die-walk%C3%BCre-were-extra#.WYsOROko_-g

Am I wrong to wish there'd been as good a staging to go with it -- would it have worked so well? Who can say -- but it might have been worth the try. There was one strong physical impression, though, and that was sheer size. Terfel is famously huge -- dwarfs me. But he wasn't the tallest man on stage; O'Neill is the same height and broader, and Matthew Rose is even taller than either of them. The women were tiny by comparison, even Elaine McKrill. Giants in the earth, indeed.

It was quite an experience, and I'm glad to say the other critics thought so too. The first reviews have been glowing, terms like "talked about for years..." are being bandied about. I don't think it was being recorded for broadcast, and I don't know whether the sheer electricity would have come across so well. "You had to be there" is infuriating, but it's true. Glad I was; wish you could have been, too. And glad such things can still happen.

Cheers,

Mike
Bert Coules
2017-08-09 14:37:28 UTC
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Sounds tremendous Mike. And I wouldn't waste too much time wondering about
a full production making it even better: as I'm sure you've found in the
past, committed performances and a willing imagination on the part of the
audience can provide every bit as good and as immersive an experience, and a
superior one if the staging isn't to your taste.

What you describe sounds a good deal more theatrical, in the best sense,
than many a full production. "Theatre can do anything" said a well-known
director to me the other day (we were discussing the practicalities of a
room full of angry dwarfs) and so it can; but sometimes it can do it best
with the barest minimum of resources.

The current (assuming they ever revive it) ENO Ring had try-out stagings in
rehearsal clothes and minimal scenery. Without exception they were far
better than the resulting "real" thing. And one of the finest bits of
Hamlet I've ever scene was provided by two young actors working in the
middle of a crowded shop floor at Selfridge's.

Bert
Bert Coules
2017-08-09 14:42:06 UTC
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"I've ever scene..."? Good grief. Apologies.

Bert
Mike Scott Rohan
2017-08-10 17:43:33 UTC
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On Wednesday, August 9, 2017 at 3:37:24 PM UTC+1, Bert Coules wrote:


"Roomful of angry dwarves"? Not something of Terry Pratchett's, is it?

Cheers,

Mike
Bert Coules
2017-08-10 18:10:50 UTC
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Post by Mike Scott Rohan
"Roomful of angry dwarves"? Not something of Terry Pratchett's, is it?
J B Priestley, if it ever happens.

Bert
Mike Scott Rohan
2017-08-14 13:30:39 UTC
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Post by Bert Coules
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
"Roomful of angry dwarves"? Not something of Terry Pratchett's, is it?
J B Priestley, if it ever happens.
Bert
Not "The Thirty-First of June"?

Cheers,

Mike
Bert Coules
2017-08-14 17:55:08 UTC
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Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Not "The Thirty-First of June"?
I don't know that one. It's Lost Empires: the decline of the music halls
and variety in the years leading up to World War One. Lots of dwarfs around
then, apparently.

Bert
Mike Scott Rohan
2017-08-21 17:45:13 UTC
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Post by Bert Coules
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Not "The Thirty-First of June"?
I don't know that one. It's Lost Empires: the decline of the music halls
and variety in the years leading up to World War One. Lots of dwarfs around
then, apparently.
Bert
Cue jokes about being short-staffed. I know The Good Companions, but I've never read Lost Empires; sounds as if I should. The Thirty-first of June is quite unlike anything else I know of Priestley's, a light-hearted Arthurian era meets modern world fantasy, very 1950s. Haven't read it for years, but remember it fondly -- definite anticipation of Pratchett, but much gentler and more amiable.

Re dwarves, I remember some of my sister's friends monkeying with tape-loops etc to produce the sound of a whole dark room full of Arabs quietly inquiring after someone called Abdul -- very effectively, too. No doubt a synth could serve equally well these days for your discontented minority.

Cheers,

Mike
Bert Coules
2017-08-23 10:38:31 UTC
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Post by Mike Scott Rohan
I've never read Lost Empires; sounds as if I should.
It's very enjoyable, hugely evocative, and generally reckoned to be the
finest of his later novels. There was a Granada TV serial version many
moons ago starring a startlingly young Colin Firth and with Laurence Olivier
in one of his final TV appearances.

When I dramatised it for Beeb radio, the Olivier part was played - and
played extremely well - by Freddie Davies. This new version is for the
stage, so synthesised small people, however numerous and well realised,
won't do I'm afraid.
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
The Thirty-first of June is quite unlike anything else I know of
Priestley's...
I must take a look at it. Thanks.

Bert
Mike Scott Rohan
2017-08-23 17:15:06 UTC
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Post by Bert Coules
It's very enjoyable, hugely evocative, and generally reckoned to be the
finest of his later novels. There was a Granada TV serial version many
moons ago starring a startlingly young Colin Firth and with Laurence Olivier
in one of his final TV appearances.
Ah, believe I actually saw some of that, in the first instance because one of my foreign rights reps was distantly related to Carmen du Sautoy. It was pretty good, indeed, but never got around to reading the book.

As to the discontented dwarves, maybe a sonic effect multiplication combined with lighting could still increase the apparent numbers. I'm reminded of a touring pantomime production of Snow White where the producer only hired three dwarves and instructed them to "run about a bit"! Not exactly Nibelheim (to get this marginally on-topic!).

Cheers,

Mike

REP
2017-08-10 18:26:41 UTC
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Post by Mike Scott Rohan
This was the cast, and not only were there no weak links, none of them were less than superb. At least three of the Valkyries are capable Brunnhildes in their own right (and, like Fricka, also Scottish!).
Sir Andrew Davis, Conductor
Simon O'Neill, Siegmund
Matthew Rose, Hunding
Sir Bryn Terfel, Wotan
Amber Wagner, Sieglinde
Christine Goerke, Brünnhilde
Karen Cargill, Fricka
Lee Bisset, Gerhilde
Katherine Broderick, Helmwige
Elaine McKrill, Ortlinde
Judit Kutasi, Grimgerde
Andrea Baker, Rossweisse
Madeleine Shaw, Siegrune
Jennifer Johnston, Waltraute
Claudia Huckle, Schwertleite
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Cheers,
Mike
Thanks for the report, Mike. I'm glad you were able to enjoy what was, from the sound of it, an excellent performance. I remember hearing O'Neill in radio broadcasts a few years ago and liking his voice (especially compared to other tenors who were singing Wagner around the same time).

Sometimes "you had to be there" is true enough. And sometimes it's our own mood, more than the live atmosphere, that makes the evening special. For example, I thought Andrew Davis's conducting of Parsifal at Chicago in 2013 was wonderful, but all the reviews at the time seemed to disagree with me. Looking back, I'm sure my opinion was colored by the fact that recent Wagner broadcasts had been lackluster or worse, which made the Parsifal seem better than it was. Either way, it was an enjoyable evening.

REP
Paul Goodman
2017-08-10 21:12:14 UTC
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Post by REP
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
This was the cast, and not only were there no weak links, none of them
were less than superb. At least three of the Valkyries are capable
Brunnhildes in their own right (and, like Fricka, also Scottish!).
Sir Andrew Davis, Conductor
Simon O'Neill, Siegmund
Matthew Rose, Hunding
Sir Bryn Terfel, Wotan
Amber Wagner, Sieglinde
Christine Goerke, Brünnhilde
Karen Cargill, Fricka
Lee Bisset, Gerhilde
Katherine Broderick, Helmwige
Elaine McKrill, Ortlinde
Judit Kutasi, Grimgerde
Andrea Baker, Rossweisse
Madeleine Shaw, Siegrune
Jennifer Johnston, Waltraute
Claudia Huckle, Schwertleite
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Cheers,
Mike
Thanks for the report, Mike. I'm glad you were able to enjoy what was,
from the sound of it, an excellent performance. I remember hearing
O'Neill in radio broadcasts a few years ago and liking his voice
(especially compared to other tenors who were singing Wagner around the
same time).
Sometimes "you had to be there" is true enough. And sometimes it's our
own mood, more than the live atmosphere, that makes the evening
special. For example, I thought Andrew Davis's conducting of Parsifal
at Chicago in 2013 was wonderful, but all the reviews at the time
seemed to disagree with me. Looking back, I'm sure my opinion was
colored by the fact that recent Wagner broadcasts had been lackluster
or worse, which made the Parsifal seem better than it was. Either way,
it was an enjoyable evening.
REP
Sir Andrew Davis is conducting the Chicago Lyric production of Walker
this November. I am going and looking forward to it. Below is a link
to the cast:

<https://www.lyricopera.org/concertstickets/calendar/2017-2018/productions/lyricopera/die-walkure-opera-tickets#./Meet%20the%20Artists?&_suid=150239927025803694708326558632>


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Paul Goodman
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