The dear old Royal Albert Hall is unlikely to be anyone's favourite venue for a five-hour opera at the height of a heatwave suffering, as it does, from extraordinarily inconsistent acoustics and utterly inadequate air cooling.
So it is with some sense of amazement that I rate this performance of Wagner's Die Walküre as one of the finest of my experience. It was not a performance without incident - including a botched entrance and a fairly spectacular memory loss. However these accidents, which might have sunk a lesser performance, did little or nothing to diminish the accumulated force and emotional power of the evening.
Firstly Daniel Barenboim and his glorious Staatskapelle Berlin were on world beating form. Barenboim is now one of the great Wagner conductors of the age and he knows just how to phrase this long evening. There were a couple of moments when I hankered for a touch of Solti fire but overall it was near perfect. And the quality of the playing in all departments, especially the woodwind and brass, would be the envy of any opera house.
Barenboim rightly wheeled out the Wagner heavyweights for this opera so we were treated to Bryn Terfel's monumental Wotan. Each time I re-experience Terfel's interpretation of this role I marvel anew at the wealth of detail, the intelligence and the fearsome risks he takes. The great Act Two monologue is the beating heart of this performance and Terfel, often fining his voice down to a whisper, held the house spellbound. This is a portrayal to rank with the greatest Wotans.
He was aided inestimably by at last being matched with a Brünnhilde on his level. It has taken far too long for Nina Stemme's Valkyrie to get to London but this is the real thing. Even and powerful throughout the voice and acted with deep intelligence and emotional commitment we have seen nothing like her in decades.
The other standout portrayal was Ekaterina Gubanova's superlative Fricka. Why has this wonderful artist been resolutely ignored by the Royal Opera management? I can't imagine this role better sung and the intensity and intelligence of her vital confrontation with Terfel made one regret that it doesn't last twice as long. I've never experienced such a moving interpretation of this scene.
The Wälsung twins were not quite on this level. Simon O'Neill brings a wealth of experience and power to Siegmund but it is not a beautiful sound which means the great "warm-bath" moments in Act 1 fall short. London has only seen Anja Kampe as Senta recently but Sieglinde suits her much better as the role sits comfortably in the middle of her range and puts less pressure on the top. Eric Halfvarson is an ideally black voiced and hearted Hunding - No playing for sympathy in this interpretation! Only the Valkyries disappointed and fell a good deal short of the A-class team fielded at the Royal Opera recently. But this is a minor quibble when set against the power of this marvellous performance.
- Sebastian Petit