thu 27/07/2017

Die Walküre, Grange Park Opera review - imaginative and intelligent | reviews, news & interviews

Die Walküre, Grange Park Opera review - imaginative and intelligent

Die Walküre, Grange Park Opera review - imaginative and intelligent

Wagner’s epic shines in compelling staging with strong cast

Bryan Register as Siegmund - 'Wo ist dein Schwert?'All images: Robert Workman

Grange Park Opera is aiming big. The company is in a new venue, the grounds of West Horsley Place in Surrey, where they have built themselves a spectacular new opera house in less than a year. The building is not yet complete, but is close enough to stage a full summer season, including this new production of Die Walküre, the second opera of Wagner’s Ring cycle. The opera is a major undertaking for any company, but Grange Park has taken it in its stride, presenting an imaginative and intelligent staging, and to high musical standards, not least from the almost uniformly fine cast.

It’s a single-set affair – a large balconied room of a stately home. But set designer Jamie Vartan and lighting designer David Plater create so much variety that it is easy to forget that there are only minimal prop changes between the acts. Director Stephen Medcalf focuses on the narcissism, even sadism, that leads Hunding to exploit Sieglinde, and Wotan to exploit Brünnhilde, the connection apparent in the shared visual style between the first two acts. Medcalf is comfortable with the incongruity of Hunding’s home in the first act becoming Wotan’s in the second. Both are collectors, Hunding a Victorian naturalist, his home filled with glass cabinets of stuffed animals, Wotan of military regalia. Even the sword Nothung sits in a glass display case, and of course Sieglinde and Brünnhilde are similarly treated as trophies.

All these ideas are secondary to the sheer theatricality of the staging

Medcalf adds a mute subplot, a relationship between the butler and a chambermaid, again mirroring the two abusive relationships. If you don’t like that sort of directorial addition, you can usually ignore it, but not here. In the second act it descends into graphic sexual violence, enacted in the background as Wotan sings. Callous? Perhaps, but it works perfectly as the focal point for Medcalf’s interpretation; it is very difficult to see Wotan as the hero here.

All these ideas are secondary to the sheer theatricality of the staging, and the greatest strength of the production is the Personenregie, Medcalf continually drawing imaginative, often counterintuitive, reactions from the characters. The chemistry between the Siegmund and Sieglinde in Act I isn’t easy to express, but here the gradual emergence of their love is palpable. Similarly with the gradual acceptance of Brünnhilde’s fate in the finale, expressed to us with increasing certainty through the hardening interactions between her and Wotan. But the uncertainty of individual characters is even more compelling. The Annunciation of Death scene in Act II is a highlight, with Brünnhilde initially uncertain and reluctant to do her duty, and Siegmund similarly divided, although the moment of his resolve is sharply defined.

The standout performance in Act I is from Claire Rutter as Sieglinde. Her tone is pure and clear, and her German articulation impeccable. Bryan Register, as Siegmund (main picture), seems to hold back initially, but his vocal prowess soon becomes clear. Wälse! Wälse! Wo ist dein Schwert? was sensational, and the finale of Act I makes a similar impact. Alan Ewing is bassy and forceful, although there was a curious nasal quality to his tone, perhaps the result of a head cold. A shame, because his portrayal of the patient but vengeful Hunding is dramatically ideal.

Thomas Hall and Sara FulgoniAct II takes place around a huge circular table, with Wotan the Lord of the Manor and Fricka an upright and pompous visiting Victorian lady, bustle and all. The dynamic between Thomas Hall’s Wotan and Sara Fulgoni’s Fricka (both pictured right) is excellent, Wotan attempting to play down the Wälse affair, as if it was simply a business matter, while Fricka continually insists on the moral implications. Hall is a lean figure, and his voice is not huge, but he has the ideal stage presence for the role, and his portrayal of Wotan is the key note of this production – strong and authoritative, but fatally compromised in every situation. Fulgoni is similarly compelling as Fricka, although a little less clear in articulation.

The second half of Die Walküre relies mostly on Wotan and Brünnhilde, and the combination of the Thomas Hall and Jane Dutton again proves close to ideal. Dutton isn’t on the very highest rank of Wagnerian voices, but she is more than proficient, and her acting is superlative. She has all the top notes, although they don’t always sound natural, and her voice audibly tired in the last act. A shout-out, too, for Brünnhilde’s fellow Valkyries. At the opening of Act III, they are presented as yet more specimens in Wotan’s collection, each on display in a glass cabinet, before coming to life for a menacing war dance – all attired in Prussian military uniform, pointy helmets and all. The ensemble is in fine vocal form, their Hojotohos ringing around the small auditorium.

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra copes well with the huge demands of Wagner’s score. The woodwind soloists shone, particularly the bass clarinet. The brass occasionally sounded stretched, especially the horns in the first act, and the lower brass could do with a little more weight. Conductor Stephen Barlow leads a patient but suitably dramatic and fluid musical interpretation. He gives plenty of space to the singers, and paces the music to the action. So the quiet pedal points are often daringly extended to allow time for the stage action, while all the set pieces – the Act I finale, the Ride of the Valkyries – are properly driven for full dramatic impact.

This Walküre follows a well-received Tristan und Isolde, which was in the company’s repertoire at its previous home until last year. When that was first unveiled, in 2011, there was talk from the management of a Ring cycle, or at least several instalments. This new production augers well for the company’s Wagnerian ambitions, which no doubt will continue apace when their own Valhalla is complete.

@saquabote

Director Medcalf focuses on the work’s abusive relationships; it is very difficult to see Wotan as the hero here

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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Comments

Gavin, the 'servants' of the households were surely meant to be Alberich and Grimhilde: she was pregnant with Hagen at the end...?

The set was clearly inspired - in design and décor - by the entrance hall of Wagner's villa Wahnfried in Bayreuth.

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