ENO’s The Valkyrie

by Chris Bertram on May 16, 2004

I saw the second installment (and therefore, confusingly “The first day … “) of Phyllida Lloyd’s _Ring_ for ENO: “The Valkyrie”:http://www.eno.org/whatson/full.php?performancekey=19 , last night. Some of it was rubbish, but other parts were truly splendid, and, as it became more and more splendid as the evening progressed, I was able to leave feeling quite satisfied.

First for the rubbish, then. Almost every unwarranted accretion to the text detracted massively from the performance. I don’t mean the fact that it is a modern-dress performance (that’s fine by me) but a rather a whole list of things happening which shouldn’t and people being in places where they are not meant to be. The production starts with a pre-recorded scream of terror and with Wotan and Brunnhilde hanging about in Sieglinde’s cottage. To have this framing the performance rather than the rhythmic tramp-tramp of the opening bars as Siegmund arrives was close to unforgivable. Siegmund and Sieglinde were pretty underpowered throught the first Act, also, which was nothing like as moving or as shocking as it should have been. Other rubbish included a reappearance at the end of Act Two of the camera-crew that Lloyd had previously foisted on us in “The Rhinegold”:http://www.eno.org/whatson/full.php?performancekey=18 , and the ridiculous innovation of a throng of mortal suitors surrounding Brunnhilde just before the deterring ring of fire is put in place in Act Three.

With all that, you are probably wondering what could be splendid. Wotan and Brunnhilde, to begin with. Robert Hayward and Katherine Broderick both gave really authoritative performances and what made the production succeed despite everything was the long separation sequence in Act Three where they successfully conveyed the pain of separation between stern father and willful favourite daughter. This was fantastic: great acting, singing and music and real emotional charge around a deeply human moment — everything that Wagner should be. Other worthwhile parts included the beginning of Act Two and, most notably the confrontation between Wotan and Fricka (Susan Parry). We are back with the Sopranos here, as Carmela, queen of her kitchen, succeeds in making Tony comply with her will. A familiar soap situation, then, but one that worked.

Not everything on the production side was a disaster. In particular the device of having some of the action projected on a giant banner was a good way of coping with the simultaneity of different layers of the drama. So, for example, Brunnhilde addressing Siegmund and explaining his fate to him was partly handled this way.

Siegfried next …..



Scott Spiegelberg 05.16.04 at 9:05 pm

Was there extra text included with these changes to the plot? If so, was it sung to new music or spoken? Wagner believed so dearly in a complete integration of drama, poetry, visual art, and music that any significant changes to any aspect would put the rest out of kilter. In the instrumental interludes Wagner plays with the Leitmotifs, providing commentary for the specific actions that should be happening onstage. Changing the action will change the effects of the music. Did you notice this at all?

Incidentally, I find it interesting that you commented on the stage production, the singing, and the composition, but not the quality of the orchestra’s performance or the musical interpretation by the director.


Chris Bertram 05.16.04 at 9:22 pm

No, no extra text, just the additional presence of some persons on the stage.

On the orchestra and the musical interpretation, I’d just say that it was nothing special. Act I in particular lacked drive and incisiveness compared to recordings I have (Solti and Knappertsbusch). Later on, my impression was that the orchestral performance improved (like the rest).


Anthony C 05.17.04 at 3:35 pm

I’m glad you enjoyed it! I was feeling a bit of a git for having flagged up that negative review.


Michael K 05.17.04 at 9:45 pm

Thanks for this.

I always think that a performance is in complete balance if the audience has diverse opinions about the piece. I read this weekend’s review in the ST and thought: “Naah… I bet there were some good bits as well.”.

I saw the last Ring performance up here in Edinburgh and was very impressed about Scottish Opera’s interpretation.

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