Die Walküre, Royal Opera House, London

This 'Ring' just gets better
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The Independent Culture

Now that the mortals have joined the gods and monsters, the feeling is that Keith Warner's new Covent Garden Ring is coming into its own. This potent staging of Die Walküre is remarkable for the intelligent and focused exposition of its text and - in the final act especially - the power of its imagery. There is still a sense in which the designs of Stefanos Lazaridis feel overstated - too many ideas, too many elements - but the clutter of Das Rheingold has been clarified with the arrival of Die Walküre. Warner's purpose has been sharpened, too. The dramatic leitmotifs are falling into place.

Now that the mortals have joined the gods and monsters, the feeling is that Keith Warner's new Covent Garden Ring is coming into its own. This potent staging of Die Walküre is remarkable for the intelligent and focused exposition of its text and - in the final act especially - the power of its imagery. There is still a sense in which the designs of Stefanos Lazaridis feel overstated - too many ideas, too many elements - but the clutter of Das Rheingold has been clarified with the arrival of Die Walküre. Warner's purpose has been sharpened, too. The dramatic leitmotifs are falling into place.

Prime among them is the omnipresent steel helix that throws itself like a girdle around the world - the universe - encasing, protecting, reinforcing. It is the umbilical cord that connects mortals to immortals; it is the way up and the way down, extending from the depths of the Rhine to the heights of Valhalla and beyond. It is also a sight-line problem in Act I when the spring of love comes to the Walsung twins in a shower of flower-petals. But we'll let that pass.

Much more significant and thrilling is the way in which Warner has begun to place the ascendancy of human kind as a counterpoint to the demise of the gods. When we return to the environs of Valhalla in Act II, Wotan's moral and physical authority is seen to be in irreversible decline. Torn pages from a mountain of books - the remnants of wisdom and learning - are blowing in the wind; there are signs of disintegration everywhere. But into this sad, dispiriting scene strides Wotan's favourite daughter, the headstrong Brünnhilde (the feisty Lisa Gasteen). She makes her entrance, in full battle-cry, down one of the ladders from Valhalla and Warner deliciously points up the horseplay between father and daughter by having Wotan goose her with his spear to assist in those top notes. And, it has to be said, Gasteen needs the assistance - she's a little short at the top of the voice. But she's her father's daughter all right, and Warner could not be clearer that in her rebelliousness and defiance lies the free will that Wotan so craves. Warner even blocks them like mirror images of each other. The contrast between this scene and the one that follows between Wotan and his wife Fricka is dramatic. Suddenly, we're into stifling Ibsen territory.

But what a scene and how wonderfully it is played. Rosalind Plowright's imperious Fricka is scarily impressive, withering with her words and actions - a borderline dominatrix. And Bryn Terfel's Wotan is simply magnificent. The audience was stomping on the floor when it came to his curtain call - and with full justification. Terfel could in time be a legendary Wotan. On the basis of this performance alone, he's already a great one. His authority, his command, his emotional engagement, his immensely subtle nuancing of words and music - it all comes so naturally to him. As for that final scene, it was surely as moving as it could ever be to watch the shambling Terfel barely able to look upon his daughter for fear he may never be able to pull himself away. Gasteen, too, was good here, notwithstanding some dubious under-pitching. Her spirit is winning. Father and daughter parted, not with an embrace but with a passionate, intoxicating kiss.

Antonio Pappano and the orchestra rose to that moment as they rose to every moment of this most impassioned segment of the Ring - with heart and soul. Katarina Dalayman's Sieglinde did much the same with her "redemption of love" moment in Act III - she was terrific. And though Jorma Silvasti's rapid vibrato is not to everyone's taste, he was a sensitive and immensely lyrical Siegmund. A raucous band of Valkyries brandishing horses' skulls "rode" with us to the mountain top, and Wotan got his fingers burned as the fire descended. This Ring is definitely cooking.

In rep to 22 March (020-7304 4000)

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