OPERA / Give up the boos: Die Walkure - Royal Opera House

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The Independent Culture
With the chorus of disapproval still echoing from last Thursday's Das Rheingold, conductor Bernard Haitink barely paused for applause before pitching us precipitately into the teeth of the stormy prelude to Die Walkure. On stage, the lone figure of Sieglinde darted to and fro, her body convulsing violently as if the electric current of the music were passing through it, as if she and not her twin Siegmund were in flight from Hunding's dogs. In a starting coup de theatre, she reached into the fire, and the flames offered up Siegmund into her arms. For a moment they were one.

In that moment, the director, Richard Jones, left behind his frivolous and actually rather puny staging of Das Rheingold, and his Ring, emotionally speaking, grew up. Notwithstanding the zany, sometimes trivial visual metaphors, this Walkure is strong and concentrated. Act 1 is all stillness and palpable menace, faces always in shadow, a physical wariness characterising the blocking. That it didn't quite happen on Friday was principally due to the failing stamina of Poul Elming's Siegmund and the somewhat impassive and chilly vocal demeanour (very white, very Scandinavian) of Ulla Gustafsson's Sieglinde. Elming is a fine, lissom presence on stage, and the resolve and intelligence of his singing makes for far more than nature intended of a correspondingly lissom voice. There isn't much girth to the sound, and the essential heroic reserves just weren't there for him at the close. But he never sings louder than is lovely, and he truly touched the heart of Act 2.

Act 2 was altogether tremendous. Wotan's visible delight in his favourite daughter's horsemanship was a nice opening gambit from Jones. Then in bounded the strapping lass in a skeleton-print lycra body and purple gym-skirt. An ailing Deborah Polaski had made a remarkable recovery, hurling out her battle cries with blood- curdling precision, though her loud (very loud) singing was generally better supported than her softer entreaties.

Jane Henschel's Fricka (emerging from an armoured car, still in her bridal gown) had progressed well from home- builder to shrew. Her domination of Wotan was unusually vehement. Though she too must find more vocal security in repose.

But nothing on stage came even close to the triumph of John Tomlinson's Wotan. What a performance this is, how moving his ignominious descent from god to broken man. Tomlinson truly lived his great Act 2 narration, thought governing emotion in every word and phrase. Certainly there are sporadic signs of vocal wear and tear - but his conviction is unstinting and invincible. As is Bernard Haitink's astonishing grasp of Wagner's musical superstructure. Orchestrally, we've no right to expect better. I'd forgotten just how lonely a bass clarinet could sound, how fervently strings and horns soar over Wotan and Brunnhilde's last embrace.

Jones bravely confounds our expectations in this climactic moment, having Wotan pull away from the embrace, as if no longer able to look upon that which he loves most but must now lose. And even as the flames begin to rise, his physical agitation shows him quite literally torn between love and duty.

Such insights were plainly lost on the booers.