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In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on July 13, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Review – Götterdämmerung (Leeds Town Hall, Saturday 12 July 2014)

First Norn – Fiona Kimm
Second Norn – Heather Shipp
Third Norn – Lee Bisset
Brünnhilde – Alwyn Mellor
Siegfried – Mati Turi
Hagen – Mats Almgren
Gunter – Eric Greene
Gutrune – Orla Boylan
Waltraute – Susan Bickley
Alberich – Jo Pohlheim
Woglinde – Katherine Broderick
Wellgunde – Madeline Shaw
Flosshilde – Sarah Castle

Vocal Consultants – Dame Anne Evans & Sir John Tomlinson

Chorus of Opera North
Orchestra of Opera North

Concert Staging & Design Concept – Peter Mumford
Lighting & Projection Designer – Peter Mumford

Richard Farnes (Conductor)

The success of Opera North’s Ring cycle cannot be overestimated either in terms of ambition and vision but also – ultimately – artistic standards.

It’s to the Company’s credit and determination that they’ve delivered this cycle despite the initial media and public reservations and in a tough economic climate. And artistically, overall it has been a success.

What Ring cycle doesn’t have its weak links or moments of disappointment?

An incredible Das Rheingold was followed by a more disappointing Die Walküre and Siegfried but the final performance of Götterdämmerung in Leeds dissipated any previous concerns with playing and singing that was in the main superlative.

And superlative is the adjective best applied to the incredible playing of the Orchestra of Opera North.

Richard Farnes inspired some of the most luminous and rich playing I’ve heard in any Ring cycle. Not only was there a depth and volume to the strings but Farnes marshalled them with utter precision, and they responded accordingly to the ebb and flow of Wagner’s music. Wind and brass – from the opening chords – played with complete confidence, balancing the warmth of the strings with a bloom and – as required – piquancy that reverberated around the hall. And the percussion was every bit as committed. Never have the timpani beats, reminding the audience of Fafner and Fasolt, sounded so forbidding.

And as well as providing incredible support to the singers, the orchestra was very much part of the unfolding drama. From Siegfried’s journey down the Rhine to his devastating Funeral March, the orchestra provided an additional narrative of timbres and colours.

And in the podium, Farnes demonstrated a grip of the music and it’s overall architecture as he had in Siegfried. He had the sweep of the music firmly in his hands but didn’t allow it to swamp the finer details of Wagner’s score. While his departure from Opera North might be a loss to the Company itself, I sincerely hope that he will now be seen in other opera houses – and especially in Germany – where I think his talent and musicianship will be most welcome.

Of the singers, Alwyn Mellor as Brünnhilde was inevitably the focus of everyone’s attention. And rightly so. Following her appearance as Sieglinde in Opera North’s Walküre you have to wonder why Ms Mellor wasn’t cast as Wotan’s daughter for the entire cycle?

It was a very accomplished interpretation and performance. And I separate those two elements deliberately. Technically, apart from the occasional snatched note at the top of her range, Ms Mellor demonstrated that she has the heft and stamina for the role. And by stamina I don’t only mean that she can rise above the orchestra as required, but until the very end she demonstrated the ability to scale her voice right down. I always think it is a test of any Brünnhilde how she sings “Ruhe, ruhe, du Gott!”. The Immolation scene isn’t only one of volume, and this Brünnhilde showed that as well as providing the sheer volume, in the more reflective moments she could similarly project her vocal authority with eloquence. And in terms of interpretation, Ms Mellor revealed both the daughter of Wotan and betrayed wife of Siegfried. There was a convincing vulnerability to her characterisation, particularly at the beginning of the Second Act. But as a scorned woman she quickly revealed a steely determination before ending the opera once again as the daughter of a God – wise, forgiving and ultimately resolved to her fate.

And while Alwyn Mellor’s Brünnhilde – as with all Brünnhilde’s – will always be an evolving interpretation, her performance in Götterdämmerung suggests that she has it within her grasp to be a leading Brünnhilde.

I shall be looking out for her on stage in the future and I sincerely hope that Opera North have contracted her as all three Brünnhilde’s for their complete cycles in 2016. Indeed I hope one day to hear her as Isolde.

Mati Turi was pronounced slightly indisposed before the performance began. After my concerns about his pacing in Siegfried, clearly a solid technique helped him deliver a convincing performance in this final opera. If his singing felt was slightly ‘covered’ and less than heroic at times, it remained elegantly fluid and his narration in the Third Act was well nuanced and intelligently sung.

As Brünnhilde’s sister, Susan Bickley made for a totally convincing Waltraute. Having seen her most recently as Eduige in Rodelinda and Jocasta in Thebans, she brought her vast experience to bear on this small, yet pivotal, role. For a moment I almost thought she was about to convince Brünnhilde to return to Valhalla and thereby rob us of the rest of the evening. Fortunately they stuck to Wagner’s plan.

The three Rhinemaidens delivered some of the finest ensemble singing in these roles I’ve heard. Their voices remained distinct but melded beautifully, each displaying a keen ear in terms shaping their phrasing. And similarly Lee Bisset – an impressive Freia – returned as a vocally nuanced and confident Third Norn. I do wonder why we don’t hear her more in London?

Of the remaining roles, it was Alberich and his son Hagen who delivered the most convincing performances. In the dream scene, Jo Pohlheim instantly reminded us why he made such an impact in Siegfried. In signature black gloves, his resonant and darkly hued bass was matched by his acting ability. And like father like son in terms of Mats Almgren’s Hagen. The intonation and diction problems that affected his Fafner were nowhere to be seen in his performance as the Gibichung’s half-brother, sung with a malevolent and confident eloquence.

The Chorus of Opera North gave electrifying performances in the Second Act – diction clear, singing forceful yet clean and distinct.

As in her portrayal of Senta for ENO, I found Orla Boylan’s Gutrune rather hard-toned vocally. She has the heft and despite a tendency for her voice to spread at the top of her range, the technique but the edge in her voice diminishes any sense of gleam or warmth. But there was no doubting the passion and musicianship she invested in the role especially after Siegfried’s death. However, as her brother, Eric Greene’s Gunter was disappointing – vocally occluded and at times technically and musically strained.

Yet the sum of this Götterdämmerung’s parts outweighed its small disadvantages, making for a thrilling evening and fitting end to this ambitious project. And it seemed right and proper that Farnes and his incredible players received the loudest cheer and ovation at the end if it all.

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  1. […] but it reminds me that musical life outside London remains vibrant. Opera North ended their Ring cycle with incredible aplomb and authority in the summer. While there were inevitably some weak moments, […]

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