Die Walküre

Richard Wagner

Grange Park Opera

The Theatre in the Woods, West Horsley Place

From 29 June 2017 to 15 July 2017

Review by Louise Lewis

Die Walküre was booked in long before the company had to up sticks and take up a new residence in Surrey. This Wagnerian epic is quite a challenge for any opera company—let alone one building a new home.

The second part of Wagner’s Ring Cycle comes in at around four hours of stage time—an endurance feat for artists and audience alike. There was certainly a feel of the principles pacing themselves, but, once they’d settled in, the standard of this fantastic team of performers grew and grew throughout the night. This was in tandem with Stephen Medcalf’s direction—it lacked energy in act I but again seemed to garner momentum throughout the evening.

Die Walküre takes place in single, grand, palatial room, the walls a rich red and ringed with a high balcony.

Coupled with David Plater’s sensitive lighting design, Jamie Vartan’s set effectively takes on mulitiple locations with minimal changes in props. In act I, we are in a museum; glass display cabinets house taxidermy, butterflies and large tree trunks. Medcalf focuses on the sense that Hunding and Wotan are collectors—and treat those around them as trophies.

Siegmund bursts into this room dripping with heavy furs and bringing a sense of a harsh winter outside the warmth of Hunding’s lavish domain. He and Sieglinde’s meeting captures the right sense of intrigue, a couple that cannot keep their eyes off one another.

Act I is all about an erotic love and, once Bryan Register (Siegmund) and Claire Rutter (Sielglinde) let rip, their passionate duet brings act I to an exciting end. Rutter really shines in this production, her excellent articualtion and quicksilver tone contains all the power required without becoming too approximate.

Act II moves to Valhalla, Wotan at home drinking tea around a vast dining table.

Thomas Hall (Wotan) and Sara Fulgoni (Fricka) work as a handsomely bickering married couple—Hall’s charming attempts to downplay his meddling coupled with Fulgoni’s powerful insistence. Hall’s following despair is powerfully covered as his rich baritone soars above the lush orchestration.

The second half of Die Walküre focuses largely on Wotan and Brünnhilde, again a brilliant dynamic. Jane Dutton (Brunnhilde) has excellent dramatic presence. She’s exciting to watch and brings a fresh, youthful energy to the stage as Wotan’s daughter, although sadly loses clarity of tone at the louder moments.

The ensemble opens act III with a vibrant chorus of "Hojotohos", the Valkyries stepping out from display cabinets, proving to be more of Wotan’s trophies. The ensemble is on fine form, their presence bringing a boost in pace and energy.

The Bournemouth Symphony orchestra is conducted by Stephen Barlow, a combination often used by Grange Park Opera. Barlow paces this epic well, allowing room for the singers. He effectively manages the quieter moments, whilst drawing the drama from the well known set pieces. The Bournemouth Symphony is on fine form—the strings sound is full and has me tingling as they soar through Wagner’s more impassioned writing. The brass has more trouble, lacking a little in weight.

It seems they saved the best till last. With excellent casting, this exciting and imaginatively staged Die Walküre proves to be the most thrilling production of Grange Park’s summer season.