Der Ring des Nibelungen

Alexander Anissimov
National Youth Orchestra of Ireland
5 August 2002 (R), 6 August 2002 (W)
8 August 2002 (S), 10 August 2002 (G)
University Concert Hall Limerick
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio

Das Rheingold

Die Walküre



The thundering success of Limerick’s Wagner cycle

AS 200 musicians and singers pack their bags today for Birmingham to give repeat performances of the Ring cycle in the city, the extraordinary success of the Wagner Festival in Limerick raises a few crucial questions, among them: When can Wagner fans expect to see the cycle again? Or will it be allowed to fade into memory?

Briefly, I suggest that the festival alternate every two years between the University Concert Hall, Limerick, and the National Concert Hall, with accompaniment by either the National Youth Orchestra or the combined forces of the National Symphony Orchestra and the RTE Concert Orchestra. What is important is that the continuity is maintained, now that a Wagner tradition (albeit a modest one) has been established. Furthermore, we have now the nucleus of a talented group of Irish singers capable of performing Wagner, including Patricia Bardon and Orla Boylan who were not in the Wagner Festival.

Concert performances of opera can be tedious affairs, with singers at risk of being drowned by unsympathetic conductors and orchestras, but in Limerick the experiment worked for three main reasons: Dieter Kaegi’s imaginative direction of the singers, especially in the balcony scenes; the energetic conducting of Alexander Anissimov, who coaxed consistently incisive playing from the NYO; and the singing of the star principals. Such was the excitement generated on the opening night, Monday, that many music lovers decided to book tickets for the remaining operas. The nobility of the music of Das Rheingold had clearly got to them and they wanted to taste more.

This opening opera of the Ring quartet, a compelling tale of greed and gold, was superbly sung by the German baritone Volker Vogel as Loge, Rolf Haunstein as the evil dwarf Alberich, and Leandra Overmann as Erda the Earth Goddess. The trio of Irish Rhine Maidens, Franzita Whelan, Emer McGilloway and Colette McGahon, were in particularly good voice. The audience also clearly appreciated the intelligent English surtitles. Prior to the start of Die Walkure on Tuesday it was announced that Norwegian bass Frode Olsen was unwell but had agreed to sing. As it turned out he did not spare himself, and his moving last-act farewell to Brunnhilde was very convincing. However, as the authoritarian Wotan his underpowered voice, though well-focused, lacked cutting edge and tonal colour.

The best singing of the evening undoubtedly came from the Belgian-born soprano Helene Bernardy as Sieglinde; she was ideal for the role with her soaring top and fervent interpretation. The experienced English tenor Robin Leggate was a worthy partner, being a more lyric than a dramatic Siegmund. There were other notable performances by Janice Baird, a richly voiced Brunnhilde, Daniel Lewis Williams as Hunding, and Suzanne Murphy, who made a surprisingly convincing Fricka. The Valkyries who, like the Rhine Maidens, sang from the balconies and again mostly Irish singers produced a wave of vocal sound in keeping with Wagner’s score.

However, if Das Rheingold belonged to the singers, one can truthfully say that Die Walkure was dominated by the orchestra and its exuberant driving force, Alexander Anissimov. This was a sound with the power of thunder and the flash of lightning. The festival ended last night with Gotterdammerung.

GUS SMITH | 11/08/2002


Odd things occur in the land of Cuchulain. Thanks to economics and religious scruples, it’s nearly 90 years since Wagner’s Ring was last performed in Ireland in its entirety. But this week, musical history was forged. The National Youth Orchestra of Ireland, under its Russian conductor Alexander Anissimov, has cheekily done the unthinkable, in a concert mara- thon over six days. It will repeat this Ring in Birmingham next week.

Rush to hear them : for this is one of the most uplifting musical events of the year. The young Irish are a model of musical maturity. There’s no overegging, no youthful gaucheness. They’re in command from the first welling susurrations in unfathomable double basses. It’s as good as hearing the Ring afresh, for the very first time.

The NYOI delivered a stunning cast. Janice Baird’s Brunnhilde, a real heldliches Kind, shears through like Nilssen (in low register, too); I caught only her in Die Walküre; happy those who hear Siegfried and Götterdämmerung too. Canadian Alan Woodrow sings Siegfried; Baird’s fellow-American, Daniel Lewis Williams, makes a resonant Hunding; Robin Leggate (excellent) and the Belgian soprano Helene Bernardy (what emotional range) touch the quick as the doomed sibling lovers; Serbian-born Leandra Overmann is a cavernous Erda. The Valkyries, fired up by Colette McGahon’s bracing Waltraute and Cara O’Sullivan’s explosive Helmwige, take the hall by storm.

How I liked Frode Olsen : slightly too laid-back, but the most lucid of Wotans – authoritarian yet hopelessly vulnerable, stymied by wilting will and finely splicing each new Wotanish angst into Anissimov’s unwearisome, wisely pitched, beautifully nursed reading. Suzanne Murphy’s shrillish Fricka needs geeing up in Rheingold, but sizzles in Walküre’s sit-com family row. The German Rolf Haunstein retains his vigour as a grizzled Alberich; the Polish prizewinning baritone Tomasz Konieczny’s forthright Fasolt impressed hugely in upper registers; Brian Bannatyne-Scott’s Fafner plays second fiddle in Rheingold, only to meet a resonant sticky end in Siegfried. Best of all is the gripping Volker Vogel (an established Mime), here singing Loge for the first time.

But oh, this young orchestra. Is it too much for them? Of course not. Go to hear the NYOI cellos alone or their double basses; Ronan O’Sullivan’s sinuous bass clarinet (the Ring’s real hero) and Matthew Berrill’s clarinet solos; or the horn chorus (outshining the trumpets); the Magic Fire’s antiphonal piccolos; or guest leader Michael D’Arcy’s affectionate nursing of the violins. Go to hear them all. Go to be amazed.

Roderic Dunnett | Friday 9 August 2002

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