Royal Albert Hall
Brünnhilde – Nina StemmeSiegfried – Andreas Schager
Gunther – Gerd Grochowski
Alberich – Johannes Martin Kränzle
Hagen – Mikhail Petrenko
Gutrune, Third Norn – Anna Samuil
Waltraute, Second Norn – Waltraud Meier
First Norn – Margarita Nekrasova
Woglinde – Aga Mikolaj
Wellgunde – Maria Gortsevskaja
Flosshilde – Anna Lapovskaja
Justin Way (director)Royal Opera Chorus (chorus master: Renato Balsadonna)
Daniel Barenboim (conductor)
|Images: BBC/Chris Christodoulou
By the end of the first act, I was convinced that, barring a catastrophe of, well, Götterdämmerung-like proportions, this would now turn out to be the greatest Ring since Bernard Haitink’s 1998 Royal Opera performances– also semi-staged, also at the Royal Albert Hall. And so it came to pass. Not only did we continue to hear superlative conducting from Daniel Barenboim and equally superlative playing from the Staatskapelle Berlin. (To guard my back, unlike Siegfried, I shall mention in passing very occasional signs of tiredness towards the end, if only so as not to have to return to such Beckmesserish thoughts.) We also at last heard a Siegfried and Brünnhilde worthy of the roles. Götterdämmerung, by virtue of its placing as the third ‘day’ of the Ring, should always be a special occasion, though sadly that is anything but a foregone conclusion; this performance, however went beyond ‘special’, to ‘great’.
From Siegfried’s very first line, we heard what had been missing earlier on. Lance Ryan had proved serviceable in the previous instalment, yet Andreas Schager proved preferable in every respect. The beauty of his voice alone here showed what earlier had been lacking, let alone the dramatic commitment he would show when acting his third-act narration or, indeed, stiffly as ‘Gunther’ with the Tarnhelm. It was clear even in the Prologue that this was a fully mature Siegfried, a man, no longer a boy, despite his fatal flaws; Schager’s interaction with the orchestra as part of a musico-dramatic whole that extended far beyond any single contributor was not the least of his virtues. Drinking the potion brought a touching hymn to lost innocence, soon enough followed by an eroticism entirely lacking in many portrayals (let alone Robert Dean Smith’s Tristan, the night before). There was, moreover, real anger to his contesting Brünnhilde’s claims in the second act, betokening a psychological understanding rarely present in this role. One might have taken dictation, of words and music, from either him or Stemme, for pretty much the whole of the performance. Anyone who did not respond both to the irrepressible vitality of this Siegfried’s swagger with the Rhinemaidens and to the detailed, loving narrative of his deeds recalled would be satisfied with no one, not even Lauritz Melchior. This might actually have been the first time I was moved as I should have been by the moment when he recalls Brünnhilde: a true monument to a truer love than I have heard.