Götterdämmerung (BBC Proms)
The Proms' first ever staging of the entire Ring Cycle came to a dramatic climax on Sunday at the Royal Albert Hall
Valhalla went up in flames, the river Rhine burst its banks, the Ring was returned to the Rhinemaidens and world order was restored. Although the final instalment of the Berlin Ring was semi-staged, and the above stage instructions could only be imagined, Sunday's exhilarating performance of Götterdämmerung brought to a conclusion a week that will go down in Proms' history – not only because it was the first Ring Cycle to presented there in one week – but musically it was an unqualified triumph as well.
Daniel Barenboim is one of the world's greatest Wagnerians, has years of experience of conducting The Ring and managed to achieve the nigh on impossible – namely six hours of faultless music-making that for me made this one of those rare performances that not only left me shell-shocked at its close, but exhilarated as well, and certainly counts as one of the finest evenings of Wagner I've experienced in 30 years of opera-going.
Barenboim has this music in his blood, as does his orchestra, the Staatskapelle Berlin who, apart from a couple of fluffs throughout the evening, responded to his energetic direction with exemplary playing from all sections. They never drowned the singers, yet when they were allowed their head in the big orchestral pieces the cumulative effect was shattering, no more so in an epic rendition of Siegfried's Funeral March.
Even if the cast had been middle-of-the-road this would still have been a pretty impressive performance but as we were treated to the best singers there are today, we really were in a state of Wagnerian heaven.
The evening got off to a great start with a superb trio of Norns (Margarita Nekrasova, Waltraud Meier and Anna Samuil), and later we were presented with an equally harmonious trio of Rhinemaidens (Aga Mikolaj, Maria Gortsevskaya and Anna Lapkovskaja). Waltraud Meier also sang the role of Waltraute and did so with all the communicative skills, both vocal and theatrical, that one has come to expect from this most exciting of singing-actresses. Gerd Gorchowski was a solid Gunther whilst Johannes Martin Kränzle as Alberich was far more sinister than he had been in Das Rheingold earlier in the week.
Unfortunately Mikhail Petrenko's lyrical Hagen got lost in the vast spaces of the Royal Albert Hall, and he resorted to bluster; this role ideally calls for a black inky-voiced bass sound, which Petrenko doesn't possess. The real find of the evening was Andreas Schager's Siegfried – here is a Wagner tenor of immense promise for whom the role holds no fears. He sang beautifully all night, looked the part, and never once pushed the voice or made an ugly sound all evening. I've not heard a Siegfried to touch him, and you'd have to go back a long way (probably to Alberto Remedios) to find his equal – great things surely beckon.
I've left Nina Stemme's Brünnhilde to last for she was the undoubted lynchpin of the entire evening. Her singing was even throughout the range – top notes were thrillingly voiced, she phrased impeccably, and the middle of her voice was wonderfully rich and vibrant. She rose to great dramatic heights and sang like a woman possessed in Act II, and crowned her performance with an Immolation Scene of exceptional power and beauty. She's certainly the most musical Brünnhilde London has seen since Anne Evans, and is now evidently at the peak of her powers.
Fifteen seconds of complete silence greeted the final chord, before a standing ovation lasting almost half an hour. Wagner doesn't get any better than this, and none of us present will ever forget this epoch-making performance.