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BWW Review: THE VALKYRIE, London Coliseum


Wagner's mortals and gods go head-to-head again

BWW Review: THE VALKYRIE, London Coliseum

BWW Review: THE VALKYRIE, London Coliseum A storm rages and rages around a log cabin in which a traveller seeks rest. A woman, alone, yields to his wish and the two see something between them, a common bond they've never felt with another before. When the woman's husband arrives home, he's hardly pleased, but is provoked to threats of deadly violence when he learns that the traveller recently killed members of his clan.

And so, within the first few minutes of the 300 or so still to come, the music is powering the drama, transgressive relationships are forming and folding and violence rents the air - it's not the last time Game of Thrones came to mind, though Richard Wagner did give GEORGE RR MARTIN a 150 years or so start.

But then the ferocity of the 'music drama' begins to be undermined by some curious decisions by director, Richard Jones. Not immediately though. Brindley Sherratt is a bald ball of malevolence as the hardman husband Hunding, but we neither see nor hear enough of him before he's rather too easily duped into drinking a doctored nightcap. Emma Bell sings beautifully as the wife, Sieglinde, whose passions have been awoken by her hitherto estranged twin, Siegmund (an underpowered through illness, Nicky Spence) - well, it is mythology I suppose.

The trouble is that both are wearing what might be termed Festivalwear, so they look less like the offspring of a god and more like they're about to hitch home from Glasto. They also run very badly indeed - maybe movement director, Sarah Fahie, had a tough job as she's working with singers not dancers, but maybe some of the cast could be spared quite so much dashing about on the vast and often empty stage.

In fact, without much to look at in terms of set design, the costumes drew the eye and continued to present a problem. Rachel Nicholls is given a kind of Salt-N-Pepa meets the Bayeux Tapestry outfit as the teenage Brünnhilde, Matthew Rose's Wotan has all the visual presence of a geography teacher from Vancouver and The Valkyries themselves look like they're a party of ramblers about to board their coach home from a day out around Buxton.

They can sing though, Rose's bass giving him the gravitas he needs and Nicholls' soprano capturing her wrestling with her conscience as sentimentality trumps duty and she disobeys Wotan, only to pay the consequences later. The Valkyries (if accompanied by horses that were a little too pantomimeish given the quality of puppet work now commonplace in the West End stage) sang with celestial force and mention must go to one of their number, Claire Barnett-Jones, who delivered Fricka with great aplomb from a box for the cold-stricken Susan Bickley. As ever, I was left wanting rather more of the harvesters of dead heroes whose name is, after all, on the tin.

Due to a late ruling by Westminster Council, we had been warned that we would have to conjure Wotan's fiery circle to protect the sleeping Brünnhilde ourselves (and I confess I had fears of a Spinal Tap "Stonehenge" moment) but Rose and Nicholls had so put us through the wringer with their anguish after both had been too stubborn for their own good (some of the family dynamics in the opera are more commonplace than others) that the big finish was in the emotions and the music rather than the staging.

And that's really what the evening is about. Martyn Brabbins' baton controls an orchestra that overflows the pit into the boxes, the music literally and metaphorically uncontainable, and rather better at telling the story than John Deathridge's somewhat plodding new translation (the production is sung in English too - not always to its improvement). If the world we see purports to be one of how gods' ambition and hubris plays out amongst mortals, the world we hear is unequivocally one of how human beings navigate both the psychological and natural worlds which they inhabit, how they are pulled and can snap, how joy and sadness can sit on either side of the same coin.

This is the first of the English National Opera's new gallop round the four-part Ring Cycle (a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera, New York) and it will be fascinating to see how the other three parts are tackled. With such strong base material, it's hard to go wrong, but the ENO sails quite close to the wind with this staging, so one hopes for a little more grandeur and rather fewer anoraks next time out.

The Valkyrie is at the London Coliseum until 10 December

Photo Tristram Kenton

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