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Die Walküre - Opera North (Salford)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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Venue: The Lowry
Where: Salford

The prelude to Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle concentrated on the immortals and the theme of greed. The follow up moves the focus to the mortals and the topic to that of love and duty. Wotan (Bela Percencz) seeks a hero from outside of Asgard to resolve the conflict that his own actions has made inevitable.

His warrior maidens, the Valkyries, bring him fallen warriors but the best hope seems to be the future child of his own mortal offspring Siemund (Erik Nelson Werner) and Sieglinde (Alwyn Mellor). After being separated at birth the twins are re-united and fall in love but his own laws force Wotan to condemn their adulterous and incestuous relationship. The passion of the twins prompts Brunnhilde (Annalena Persson) , leader of the Valkyries, to defy Wotan, with disastrous consequences.

Although this is a concert, rather than a fully staged, production it does not lack imagination or power. Peter Mumford opens dramatically, almost cinematically, taking the audience rushing through a forest with filmed vertigo–inducing inserts broadcast onto video screens and the pulsing score replicating the desperation of a hunted man.

The staging is simple but devastatingly effective; whereas the prelude had colourful scenes of rushing waterways the background is now largely grim grey slate. As the second act reaches its gory conclusion a lone horn player steps from the wings to blast a huntsman’s call and the stage is bathed in blood red lighting. Only the depiction of the Valkyries in flight, looking like stylised crows, disappoints.

There are distinct differences to the score in each of the three acts. The first is gentle and pastoral leading to the astonishing love duet between Nelson Werner and Mellor. As the second act descends into chaos the vocal prowess of Persson is highlighted. Slightly built she is far from the usual image of the Valkyrie as a massive warrior woman but her swooping whip crack vocals give the impression of someone whose passion for life is so great that it is credible she would be willing to challenge her father.

It is the third act that confirms the success of the concert staging. The full nine strong chorus of Valkyries fill the stage and merge with the massive orchestra lead by conductor Richard Farnes in the magnificent "Ride of the Valkyries." This is the aural equivalent of starting with an earthquake and building to a climax. Heard live and benefiting from the superb Lowry acoustics it is an awesome experience and you just sit back, close your eyes and enjoy. Really, when the music and vocals are this good, elaborate staging is superfluous and might even be a distraction.

Opera North shows again that they have an instinct for what really matters in an opera: the music.

- Dave Cunningham


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