Classical: Simmering on a low flame

AT THE OPERA: Wagner's Die Walkure; Netherlands Opera, Amsterdam
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Wagner's Die Walkure

Netherlands Opera, Amsterdam

A raked, wooden disc like a tilted clock-face fills the stage and reaches out into the stalls for this innovative Die Walkure. Six harps sit at its centre, as the orchestra pit fills the space between two and four o'clock. The incest that brings Act 1 to a happy end takes place on a trembling spar cantilevered over the players.

The stage's radically different configuration goes some way to solve the auditorium's notorious acoustic deficiencies. The sound is notably transparent. I'm told that the conductor, Hartmut Haenchen, uses his own, new edition of Wagner's score. Hard to judge its impact, when the layout in any case boxes in the violins and highlights the Netherlands Philharmonic's excellent woodwind and cellos. They deserved their prominence: cellos dominate the scoring; their occasional partnership with the violas sounded wonderful.

As a conductor, Haenchen favours lightness: Die Walkure should add up to more than Mendelssohn, however, and here none of it mattered very much, while tension slackened completely during the Act 2 "Annunciation of Death".

George Tsypin's basic set ensured that, with no pit between them and the audience, the singers generally communicated with unusual directness. The steep rake encouraged them to sing downwards, however, towards the floor. John Keyes, the intense, securely baritonal Siegmund, suffered from this. His salutation to the sword, stuck above his head, showed what he could do if he sang out. His performance was also hampered by lazy diction. He could learn from Reinhild Runkel, the formidable Fricka, who made every syllable count.

Ex-Almeida director Pierre Audi's upfront, operatic staging suited The Ring's "first day", where human relationships have displaced the symbols that fill Das Rheingold, the cycle's "preliminary evening".

Above all, the Wotan of John Brocheler had developed hugely: he brought energy and humanity to the role and sang tirelessly. Only a fussy costume from Eiko Ishioka inhibited him slightly: he felt obliged to stop his crimson robe from flowing open, so as to conceal the groin-rooted Tree of Life on his tunic front (a gloss we did not need).

Nadine Secunde was a moving, honest, selfless Sieglinde and Kurt Rydl an awesomely fierce Hunding. Jeannine Altmeyer began promisingly as Brunnhilde, a Thurber-nightmare whooping in jodhpurs, and continued bravely, but her voice did not stay the course. The Valkyries were a mixed bunch, manuvring well in rigid, chrome swans' wings. There was atmospheric lighting from Wolfgang Gobbel and many spectacular stage effects. One was misjudged: fire flared up through the wooden stage during the prelude to Act 3, where it is not called for, but was wildly applauded. Cumbersome perspex boxes slid out at the end of the act, where fire is prescribed. Maybe, when Siegfried comes along (in June 1998), that will make more sense.

Further performances: 7, 11, 15, 18, 21, 25 February. Box office: 00 3120 625 5455

Antony Peattie