Die Walküre, Royal Opera House, London
Tuesday 12 July 2005
Domingo's voice is craggier than it was, not as free at the top, and less mellifluous, less beautiful. But when he is on stage everybody raises their game. This performance ignited long before Wotan's magic fire descended.
Wagner thrives on performers who really fill their roles. Domingo's star-status and physical presence certainly contribute to his charisma on stage. He is a supportive colleague, too, watching, listening, involved with everyone around him. In act one of Die Walküre he and Eric Halfvarson's menacing, vocally cavernous Hunding were true heavyweights. But it was Domingo's relationship with Waltraud Meier's sublime Sieglinde that stood out.
Meier has partnered Domingo many times - and it shows. Meier was magnificent - fiercely intelligent, impassioned, possessed of that inner light that is so easy to recognise and so hard to describe. When she named Siegmund at the end of act one the joy, the abandon, the sheer release of sound lifted you from your seat. And the knowledge that she was carrying Siegmund's son in the wake of his death had her maternal spirit soaring with an intensity you really believed could change the world.
The real strength of Keith Warner's staging lies in the relationships. Rosalind Plowright's Fricka, tightly corseted like a governess, uses her words so disapprovingly to remind Bryn Terfel's Wotan of his godly duties. It is a wonderful moment when this giant of a man meekly bends the knee and kisses her hand, promising to respect her wishes. But the free will Wotan craves shines through the rebellious spirit of his favourite daughter Brunnhilde, played once again with spunky, tomboy relish by Lisa Gasteen. She is a handful, but you sense the empathy between her and Terfel.
Terfel's authority grows. His act-two narration could hardly be more gripping. He and Wagner draw us in with every phrase. They make us listen. And when fatherly love finally overwhelms godly duty in the great closing scene, Terfel opens heart and voice to the house. His final kiss to Brunnhilde is delivered full on the lips.
A great evening, then; and a fitting close to the season. Antonio Pappano is not yet conveying the momentous sense of occasion that experience and depth of understanding may yet bring to his conducting, but there is a lustful excitement about his response to the most passionate of the Ring operas and if it can be rekindled at the Proms, then a lot more people will be feeling as excited as I am now.
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