Die Walküre

Richard Farnes
Opera North Orchestra
25 May 2016
Town Hall Leeds
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegmundMichael Weinius
HundingJames Creswell
WotanRobert Hayward
SieglindeLee Bisset
BrünnhildeKelly Cae Hogan
FrickaSusan Bickley
HelmwigeKatherine Broderick
GerhildeGiselle Allen
OrtlindeKate Valentine
WaltrauteHeather Shipp
SiegruneSarah Castle
GrimgerdeFiona Kimm
SchwertleiteClaudia Huckle
RoßweißeMadeleine Shaw
Stage directorPeter Mumford (2012, semi-staged)
Set designerPeter Mumford
TV directorPeter Mumford

Disobedient daughter, outraged wife: Wotan’s woes mount in Opera North’s Die Walküre

In Anna Russell’s wittily deadpan analysis of Wagner’s Ring cycle, she describes Wotan as “the head god” – pausing for dramatic effect before adding “and he’s a crashing bore too.” Wotan can be just that, especially in Act II of Die Walküre where he gets embroiled in a lengthy debate on marriage with his wife Fricka – which he loses – before providing daughter Brünnhilde with some generous backstory. It’s a tricky scene to bring off, but taut performances in this second leg of Opera North’s London Ring cycle made it crackle with tension.

Wotan’s been a busy boy since the end of Das Rheingold. Not only has he undergone a Dr Who-like regeneration into baritone Robert Hayward (he morphs again for Friday’s Siegfried), but he has fathered eleven children by two different mothers – neither of them Fricka! No wonder she’s grumpy. In Die Walküre, we meet all eleven offspring: the nine fearsome valkyries, including disobedient daughter Brünnhilde, plus twins Siegmund and Sieglinde – separated since early childhood, but reunited in an incestuous clinch by the end of the first act, thus enraging Hunding (Sieglinde’s husband) and outraging Fricka, goddess of marriage.

Opera North’s three giant video screens keep us up to speed with the plot in this concert performance, although lines such as “Hunding was immediately struck by a strange similarity between them [Siegmund and Sieglinde]” surely constitute a major spoiler alert. Wagner’s score tells us everything we need to know. When Sieglinde describes to Siegmund how “a stranger came in an old grey cloak”, the trombone tells us it was Wotan. Wagner teases motifs from the score at every opportunity, reminding us of the events and relationships from Rheingold. Richard Farnes, economical in gesture and with a fluid beat, coaxed wonderful storytelling from his magnificent orchestra, rightfully earning roars of approval at the end of each act. From warm strings like brushed velvet to mournful bass clarinet to glockenspiel flecks in the Magic Fire music, the orchestra played like heroes worthy of Valhalla itself.

The singing was very fine but, as in Das Rheingold, one performance stood out. Lee Bisset’s Sieglinde was sublime, every emotion etched on her face and imparting a truly radiant “O hehrstes Wunder!”. Her soprano has plenty of blade, yet retains incredible beauty, even at full tilt. Swedish tenor Michael Weinius didn’t push the accelerator relentlessly, giving Siegmund a good deal of warmth including a rapt “Winterstürme”. Robert Hayward was vocally disappointing as their father, his effortful Wotan lacking dramatic bite. His nuanced acting compensated, turning from haughty god to hen-pecked husband, bound by his own laws and willing the end to come quickly. Yvonne Howard’s imperious Fricka wiped the floor with him, before casting a flinty glare at Brünnhilde for good measure. James Creswell’s crisp bass made for a strong Hunding.

Kelly Cae Hogan’s bright penetrating soprano thrilled as Wotan’s errant daughter. Striding the platform in black leather boots beneath her concert dress, her Brünnhilde initially dazzled, but she also brought out the role’s more vulnerable side, aided by a slightly smoky lower register. She returns to sing Brünnhilde in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung – no mean feat. A luxurious line-up of valkyries was assembled, among whom the thrilling steely tones of Katherine Broderick shone brightest, along with Claudia Huckle’s gorgeously rich-toned Schwertleite.

As well as providing surtitles and commentary, Peter Mumford’s video screens reflected aspects of the story. Tree branches raced past as Siegmund took flight, embers glowed in Hunding’s hut, crows circled above the valkyries. The hilt of a sword indicated Nothung, smashed by Wotan’s spear but safely gathered by Brünnhilde in readiness for Siegfried on Friday… and a spot of dragon-slaying.

Mark Pullinger | 30 Juni 2016


Superb Playing and Singing from Opera North in Die Walküre

The Royal Festival Hall was packed for Opera North’s second instalment of Wagner’s monumental Der Ring des Nibelungen. Wagner’s vast mythic tale is populated by gods, dragons, dwarves and mortals and the action moves between earth, Valhalla and Nibelheim. Much as in Homer’s Iliad the gods exhibit a seething mass of human emotions and they become increasingly embroiled in the tragic sequence of events. The work is gripping as drama but it also contains some of the most inspired music to come out of the 19th Century. It contains an incredible profusion of ideas including Marx’s ideas about the proletariat (or Nibelungs) becoming enslaved to the power of capital (the Rhein gold); Feuerbach’s ideas about Gods being reflections of human beings; and Schopenhauer’s ideas around renunciation of the will perhaps best shown by Brünnhilde’s final act of self immolation.

Die Walküre is the second opera in the cycle and it describes how Siegmund and Sieglinde fall in love and have an incestuous relationship (together with Parsifal this opera shows Wagner at his most transgressive). This enrages Fricka who demands that Wotan allow Sieglinde’s husband, Hunding, to kill Siegmund in battle. Wotan asks the Valkyrie, Brünnhilde, to ensure Hunding is victorious but she disobeys him and tries to save Siegmund. Wotan shatters Siegmund’s sword in the battle and he is killed by Hunding who in turn is killed by Wotan. Brünnhilde flees with Sieglinde and succeeds in hiding her but Wotan punishes her by putting her into a deep sleep surrounded by a ring of magic fire. The scheming, the romance, the violence, the magic and the mythic fuse together to create a heady cocktail – a 19th Century version of Game of Thrones complete with some of the most inspired music ever written.

This was a semi-staged production by Opera North designed to make the opera readily accessible to those who had not already heard it before. There were three screens at the back of the auditorium which provided updates on the action and English translations while at same time showing a sequence of visual images (forests, rocks, clouds, fire, water and so on). There were chairs in front of the orchestra and the cast were not wearing period costumes or using props. I was a little disappointed with the acting in the first Act: Lee Bissett and Michael Weinius used some gestures to depict the unfolding action but for the most part they simply stood facing the audience and delivered their monologues. The acting improved in the second Act when we moved to Valhalla: I was particularly impressed with Robert Hayward’s complex depiction of Wotan (joker, schemer, philanderer, tyrant). The scene where Brünnhilde delivers the news to Siegfried of his impending demise and the subsequent battle with Hunding was gripping in its dramatic intensity. The Ride of the Valkyrie scene in the final act was well choreographed and the final confrontation between Wotan and Brünnhilde had an all too human tenderness.

I was very impressed with the singing throughout. Michael Weinius brought a gorgeous sensual lyricism to his Spring Song (Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnenmond) and the subsequent duet with Lee Bissett’s Sieglinde. I was not quite so convinced with his handling of Siegmund’s more heroic music and occasionally the tone sounded a little forced. However, he was capable of producing enormous vocal power when required and at a number of points his voice soared against huge orchestral forces. Lee Bissett’s diction was very crisp and clear at the opening of the opera although one or two of the subsequent vocal entries could have been a little tidier. She brought a rich, lustrous tone to the Act 1 duet and I was very impressed with the opening up of the sound and power she brought to the final part of the Act. Bissett moved from strength to strength and her singing in Acts 2 and Act 3 was electrifying – this was absolutely sensational singing. Having listened to this opera for many years this is one of the best performances I have heard.

Kelly Cae Hogan’s initial war cries in Act 2 were a little laboured and there were minor intonation problems but thereafter she delivered Brünnhilde’s monologues with power and passion. She brought depth and conviction to the scene with Weinius’ Siegmund and a tenderness and vulnerability to the final scene with Robert Hayward’s Wotan. Hayward is a very experienced performer and he gave an accomplished rendition of Wotan’s monologues although I would have welcomed greater vocal heft and power – on a number of occasions he was drowned out by the orchestra. Yvonne Howard was rock solid in the role of Fricka presenting with us an imperious and unbending figure. James Cresswell was also impressive in the role of Hunding and his deep sonorous bass rang out with menace in his confrontation with Siegmund in Act 1. The eight Valkyrie delivered Wagner’s war cries at the start of the third Act 3 with gusto giving us electrifying top notes.

Richard Farnes did a wonderful job with Wagner’s complex score and much of the playing was a revelation to me. He ensured the orchestral entries remained light (I was struck with how well he reined in the brass) and he kept the textures transparent. The entries were exceptionally well coordinated and he brought an enormous degree of clarity to Wagner’ unfolding web of leitmotif. I was struck by the extraordinary degree of sensitivity with which he accompanied Weinius and Bisset in the Act 1 duet and his careful attention to detail and control of dynamics. Farnes’ pacing was superb throughout and it ensured the audience remained gripped by the unfolding dramatic events. The Ride of the Valkyrie in Act 3 was stirring and inspirational while the Magic Fire music at the end of the same Act was fresh and imaginative. The Orchestra of Opera North acquitted themselves superbly but I was particularly impressed with the inner strings who brought warmth to Wagner’s chamber music textures and brass who were working on full throttle.

This was an evening of superb singing and playing that was deservedly greeted with a standing ovation by the audience.

Robert Beattie | Royal Festival Hall, London, 29.06.16

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
1920×1080, 2.2 Mbit/s, 3.9 GByte (MPEG-4)
English subtitles
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.