Twilight Of The Gods, Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture

In the last of Michael Walling's involving Barbican semi-stagings for ENO, which herald Phyllida Lloyd's new Rhinegold at the restored Coliseum in February - the ugly and the earthlings make the running: Andrew Shore's wonderful succubus of an Alberich hovers like a bad dream over Gidon Saks's domineering Hagen, whose awesome vocal persona makes one want to side with the baddies; Robert Poulton's dithering Gunther, splendidly clear-worded till the orchestra and Hagen's spear do for him; and Richard Berkeley-Steele's bear-chasing Siegfried, secure in high register yet no belting Heldentenor - more of a Jon Vickers, a decent, rather ordinary guy who looks as if he has been cheering on Swindon Town or England's rugby scrum; he has sung Tannhäuser and Lohengrin (plus Siegfried in Seattle), yet one detects a Peter Grimes in the making, and, indeed, he doubles the role in Barcelona in January.

As good as anything in this long evening (four and a half hours of music) were the Prologue, the opera's most god-like bit, in which the contralto Liane Keegan's First Norn set the pace for the whole evening: bracingly and richly delivered, with those touches of solo woodwind so artfully used by Wagner throughout begin to make their impact; and Sara Fulgoni's uplifting intervention as Waltraute.

Paul Daniel's pacings overall served the relentless skein well; despite individual brass glitches and rocky tubas, the massed brass proved admirable, and the woodwind alive; the cellos heralding Brünnhilde's farewell improved on an earlier effort; but the violins need a more lavish, warm, rounded tone if they are to prise the core from this exhausting score upon transfer to the Coliseum pit.

I took a time to like Kathleen Broderick's Brünnhilde. Her favourite stance, even when not bestriding Grane, is like one of those pregnant Van Eyck women, tummy jutting, a mite tricky in tight-fitting shiny black leather, like some escapee from Cabaret; the voice doesn't emulate Rita Hunter, ENO's searing Brünnhilde last time, but she grew in character, especially in the tough exchanges with Siegfried and Hagen, and though her not exactly leisurely adieu acquired more of a Lord of the Rings urgency, she brought her audience largely on-side.

So adequate does Wagner sound in Jeremy Sams's English - witness the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland's fine Ring last summer - one wonders why those "Celtic" opera cycles by Joseph Holbrooke and Rutland Boughton never took off; nowadays, they might have some mileage. If you can't wait till 2005 for ENO's Twilight of the Gods, try Longborough Festival Opera's trimmed-down Ring in the summer; it's worth the journey to the Cotswolds.

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