The centrepiece of this Opera Gala was obviously the chance to hear Bryn Terfel sing Act 3 of Die Walküre on his home turf. But before we progressed to the main course there was a series of starters performed by artists of the Mariinsky Opera. This could have been a chance for the company to show off some of its brightest stars but a combination of rather ordinary singing and poor choice of repertoire made for an unsatisfying diet. Gergiev opened in familiar territory with a sprightly account of the overture from Ruslan and Lyudmila which was followed by a noble rendition of Gryaznoi’s Aria from the Tsar’s Bride by Alexei Markov.
Since there was no printed translation, surtitles or even printed context, I imagine the majority of the audience remained in blissful ignorance of the aria’s import. However, from a purely vocal standpoint this was one of the highlights of the first act – Markov has a luxuriant baritone in the line of Hvorostovsky or Leiferkus although, as yet, without that indefinable extra quality of those artists. He was also a fine, if restrained Onegin in the final duet from that opera which closed the first act.
The remainder of the act was, unfortunately, of far more variable quality. Ranging from merely dull (Micaela’s Act 3 aria) to inexplicable (a hopelessly unstylish murdering of “Sulla tomba” from Lucia di Lammermoor), there appeared to be no connection between the items. The act finished with the aforementioned duet from Eugene Onegin which was brought off in fine style but without the incendiary passion that can lift this scene above the average. Still Markov’s final, anguished declamation sent the audience out happy.
So on to the main item. The act did not commence particularly well with a rather steady Ride and a powerful but unidiomatic set of Walküren. Brünnhilde arrived in the stately and rather placid form of Larisa Gogoleskaya fortunately accompanied by Mlada Khudolei whose passionate Sieglinde was the high point of the opening section. Her final outpouring before exiting was deeply moving even if the stagey exit was a mistake.
Finally Terfel made his entrance and it was clear right from the word go, as he strode through the auditorium, that he was in sovereign voice. It was unfortunately also clear that no one on stage could hold a candle to him. Superior in diction, German and dramatic conviction he utterly commanded the stage. I could swear that he was carrying Wotan’s spear and yet clearly this was not the case! He luxuriated in the full range of dynamics from hushed pianissimi to stalls-shaking fortes all the while ensuring that every word was audible and imbued with full meaning. There cannot be a singer alive who can sing this role better than him. He even managed to inspire his Brünnhilde to match his passion and commitment. Alas he could do little about her squally top notes or broken line.
Gergiev and the orchestra also seemed inspired and enlivened by Terfel’s presence and finished the evening in exciting form without achieving the electricity of Pappano or Barenboim. To sum up – a mixed evening made unforgettable by Terfel at the top his considerable game.