This star-studded revival of Die Walküre was something of an end of term jamboree for Covent Garden. (Prommers and radio listeners can hear it in concert at the Royal Albert Hall tomorrow night.) Any appearance by Domingo has an air of excitement about it, and for the purists in the audience the assault of hearing unusually bright vowels and rattling rolled Rs from Siegmund was mollified by Waltraud Meier's coolly nuanced Sieglinde. Each did their own thing: Domingo broad and glossy, Meier fluttering and vulnerable. But magnificent as those things were in their own way, they had little connection to the rest of Warner's production. Earlier this year, Jorma Silvasti and Katerina Dalayman proved that it was possible for two singers of very different appearances to convince us that they were twins - through shared accents of movement, through body language, and through the expression of their eyes - and this was one aspect that I sorely missed from the first run. Another was Silvasti's fearless head-first collapse when Siegmund is slaughtered. Domingo instead lowers himself onto the helix, as if in anticipation of a lymphatic drainage massage, then gently rolls to the ground.
Though some details of Stefanos Lazaridis's designs remain problematic - either in terms of sight-lines or the health and safety of the singers - Warner has refined and clarified the production. The set for Act I is somewhat cleaner than before. Nonetheless, the theatrical simplicity of the dialogues between Fricka (Rosalind Plowright) and Wotan (Bryn Terfel), and Wotan and Brünnhilde (Lisa Gasteen) - not to mention the imprecations of the Valkyries on the giant revolve of Act III - has more impact than any amount of detailed set dressing. Plowright, Terfel, and Gasteen have thoroughly absorbed their roles: the acting is as compelling as the finest on small or large screen, the changing moods and dynamics are fluid and beautifully understated, the singing quite magnificent. Wolfgang Göbbel's lighting has also improved in focus, heightening the sense of privacy in the dialogues.
Underpinning all of this is Antonio Pappano's extraordinary conducting. The opening storm and Act III flight remain electrically charged, and the arc of the rest shows extraordinary control and understanding. From piccolo to timpani, the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House are a model of responsiveness, and, with the exception of a slightly curdled cello solo, their playing is both impeccable and continually surprising. I can barely wait for Siegfried's Rhine Journey.
'Die Walküre': Prom 4, Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 (020 7589 8212), tomorrowReuse content