The Greatest Love Of All

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on April 27, 2015 at 2:46 pm

Review – Die Walküre, Act Three (Millennium Centre, Cardiff. Sunday 26 April)

Wotan – Bryn Terfel
Brünnhilde – Iréne Theorin
Sieglinde – Rachel Nicholls
Die Walküre – Camilla Roberts (Gerhilde); Katherine Broderick (Helmwige); Sarah Pring (Waltraute); Emma Carrington ( Schwertleite); Meeta Raval (Ortlinde); Madeleine Shaw (Siegrune); Ceri Williams (Grimgerde); Leah-Marian Jones (Rossweisse)

Welsh National Opera Orchestra
Lothar Koenigs (Conductor)

My original feelings of disappointment at the no-show by Evelyn Herlitzius were dismissed with the opening bars of this performance of the final act of Die Walküre. Not only was the orchestral sound rich and deep, with barking brass and an urgency in the woodwind that is often lacking, but there was a pent up energy, an almost rhythmic brutality created by Lothar Koenig’s conducting.

I often fear that – with the performance of single acts of complete operas –the lack of both emotional and musical momentum created by the preceding act will be have a detrimental impact. Not so here. From the opening bars to the final moment when Terfel glanced back, this was a performance replete with incredible performances and dripping with visceral drama.

And the vocal prowess of every performer matched that of the orchestral players, starting with an impressive band of warrior maidens. Each and every one was full-blooded in their singing but there was also something else. Perhaps it was the obvious enjoyment these eight singers conveyed singing as ensemble, but there was not only a sense of sisterly camaraderie but also a real sense of competition between these maidens. And special mention must go to Katherine Broderick, Meeta Raval, Camilla Roberts and Emma Carrington.


As Sieglinde, Rachel Nicholls’ perhaps suffered slightly from not inheriting the Dramatic momentum of singing the first two acts. In spite of some distracting vibrato, she gave a good and solid account but I’m not sure that ultimately she has the heft for the entire role.

The last time I saw Iréne Theorin was when she stood in at the last moment for an indisposed Katarina Dalayman for the second act of Tristan und Isolde. I never got a chance to write that performance up but I have long admired her. Her performance in the Salzburg Elektra in the title role is well-worth the price of the DVD alone as Isolde last year she was superb.

But here as Brünnhilde, Theorin gave a performance of incredible – almost iconic – stature. Her interpretation was multi-faceted, resting comfortably on rock solid technique and using to the fullest her superb vocal instrument seeped extravagantly in both colour and timbre.

This Brünnhilde was not only simply magnificent, but also a woman. From the moment she stalked on stage, Sieglinde in tow, she portrayed a Brünnhilde at first in desperate flight before transitioning into a defiant yet resolute daughter to the very end. Vocally, her soprano gleamed and shone, effortlessly cutting through the orchestra. And she made every word clear and every phrase, intelligently shaped, count. And once she had despatched Siegmund’s widow to the forest, her fear of confronting her father was almost palpable.

I often think that the scene between father and daughter is nothing short of a love duet. I can’t think of another scene depicting love – in whatever form – that surpasses it. The love Wotan has for Brünnhilde and her love for him is, quite simply, the greatest love of all. And that is what makes his final farewell so heart-rending. And what inspired Wagner to one of his greatest moments in the opera.

And this love was evident her subsequent sparring with Wotan. Not only was it ever so beautifully sung, each phrase eloquently shaped, each she imbued each word and sentence with a conviction that she had ultimately done his bidding. Whether she was revealing the truth of Siegmund’s heir or imploring Wotan to guarantee a hero’s-only rescue, so impassioned was Theorin’s performance that you felt it was almost as if Wotan himself was going to be convinced.

And Bryn Terfel – first heard off-stage a before storming in in true fury, gave an equally defining performance as Wotan. From his first entrance, he took the willing audience through the entire range of emotions that this God feels – anger and fury, disappointment, anguish, love and finally resignation, not only at the loss of his daughter, but of his own ultimate fate. This was a performance on par with his incredible performance at the Proms two years ago. As with Theorin, each word was weighed and conveyed with authority; each line of Wagner’s music dug into to heighten it’s emotional impact. The despair, as well as the love he felt for his daughter washed over the entire hall as he launched into Leb’ wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind!.

Ranged behind the singers, and as I’ve already mentioned, the Welsh National Opera Orchestra supported the singers with great authority, playing their own critical role in weaving together Wagner’s incredible canvas. Koenig’s Wagnerian credentials are second to none already, and in this performance he demonstrated that he firmly understands the architecture and breadth of Wagner’s music, while also giving it both time to breath and revealing the smallest of details.

With singing and playing of this calibre, surely it is time for Welsh National Opera to consider – even in concert-version – a Ring cycle?

  1. […] attended three other opera performance of note in 2015. First, a performance of Act Three of Die Walküre at the Millennium Centre Handel represented by Semele, Giove in Argo and Saul. Koenigs might be […]

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