Opera review: Die Walküre (Royal Scottish National Orchestra)

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Edinburgh International Festival: Let’s face it, Die Walküre has history, with its signature Ride of the Valkyeries now something of a musical cliché.

Usher Hall

*****

But this triumphant concert performance of the second opera in Wagner’s Ring Cycle by conductor Andrew Davis, the RSNO and an exceptional vocal line-up is likely to be remembered in its entirety by this festival audience.

There were cheers after the lingering kiss at the end of Act I between Simon O’Neill and Amber Wagner as the reunited twins Siegmund and Sieglinde after she flees from Hunding (bass Matthew Rose). O’Neill’s thrilling tenor voice paired with Wagner’s soprano, stretching with warmth and depth into the lower registers, set the tone for this tale of revenge and betrayal which gives Game of Thrones a run for its money.

There were odd static moments when one missed the stage movements Wagner writes into the music. However, this was more than compensated for by the immediacy, and visual spectacle, of the on-stage orchestra – especially the gleaming Wagner tubas and the row of six harps – and the way the instruments closely mirrored the inner turmoil of the characters. Act II’s domestic tiff between Bryn Terfel’s commanding Wotan and Karen Cargill’s riveting Fricka was powerful yet intimate, the mournful bass clarinet and plaintive cor anglais revealing the emotional truth behind their words.

Davis and the outstanding RSNO ratcheted up the tension in Act III as the giddy whip-like yelps of the Valkyeries foreshadowed the stormy showdown between Wotan and Brünnhilde ­– the fabulous soprano Christine Goerke. There were tears shed when Wotan banished her to sleep in a ring of fire. Terfel’s complex Wotan evoked the spirit of Shakespeare’s King Lear, a broken figure whose misguided actions destroyed those he held most dear. Don’t miss part three of this gripping saga, Siegfried, scheduled for 2018.