Götterdämmerung (Leeds Town Hall)
Opera North concludes its traversal of Wagner's ''Der Ring des Nibelungen'' with a triumphant account of the final opera
Opera North has been eking out Wagner's quartet of Ring operas in semi-staged concert performances, one a year, since 2011. On the basis of Götterdämmerung, alas the only one I've been fortunate enough to attend, the intervening time has been wisely used to prepare a glorious fusion of transcendent music-making and arresting visuals. Company music director Richard Farnes looks after the former, lighting and projection designer Peter Mumford the latter. Together, their combined care and unsparing attention to detail make this Twilight of the Gods a vast, magnificent and devastating sensory experience.
A massively enhanced Orchestra of Opera North, complete with steerhorns, Wagner Tubas and six harps, packed the steep tiers of Leeds Town Hall and yet never overpowered a single singer. In the opera house orchestral volume would be kept naturally in check by the enclosure of a pit; here the feat of balance was all down to Farnes. He micro-managed the sound swell throughout every bar of Wagner's sprawling score, discreetly reining it in under certain singers but letting rip with a glorious surge during non-vocal set-pieces like Siegfried's Rhine Journey and Funeral March. This was conducting of the utmost distinction, and Farnes's departure in two years' time will be a huge loss to the company.
Generations of stage directors have puzzled – struggled – to find viable means to represent Wagner's impossible stage directions ("With a single bound she urges the horse into the blazing pyre as the Rhine overflows its banks in a mighty flood..."). Mumford's triptych of video screens, melding cunningly with our own imaginations to sustain visual interest without bludgeoning us with literal imagery, is an ideal middle way.
An extraordinarily strong company of solo singers took Götterdämmerung's hellish lengths in its collective stride. Alwyn Mellor is that rare beast, a powerful dramatic soprano whose voice still retains its youthful luminosity. If she can avoid singing Brünnhilde too often in the years ahead – or Isolde for that matter – she is set fair to become the great Wagner heroine of her day.
Her Siegfried, Mati Turi, may have come across like that infernally jolly bloke down the pub, but he has a strong, even-toned delivery that, while not ringing with clarion beauty, vividly projected the poor gulled character and his journey (both literal and figurative).
"Boy, was the bad guy good"
Susan Bickley and Orla Boylan were outstanding as Waltraute and Gutrune respectively, Eric Greene a well-defined Gunther and, in a thrilling cameo, Jo Pohlheim the Alberich of anyone's nightmares. The opera was framed by three terrific Norns at the start (Fiona Kimm, Heather Shipp, Lee Bisset) and three fabulous Rhinemaidens at the close (Katherine Broderick, Madeleine Shaw, Sarah Castle). As for the Chorus of Opera North, they had a field day as the Vassals of Gibich.
And boy, was the bad guy good. The avaricious Hagen of Mats Almgren was saturnine and sinister, just as mesmerising in his moments of dead-eyed stillness as when his seductive bass tones slithered into the ears of trusting mortals. He lurked, prowled and stared like an omnipresent Iago.
If you are unable to attend a performance of the Opera North Götterdämmerung in Leeds, Symphony Hall in Birmingham, The Lowry in Salford or The Sage in Gateshead, be patient, for it's set to be reforged as a single entity in 2016. Do what I've done: grab a two-year diary and ink it in.