The Proms may never be the same again after the extraordinary heights achieved by the concert performance of Wagner’s Ring Cycle on almost consecutive nights last week as the composer intended.
Sunday’s Part IV, Twilight of the Gods, surpassed even the summits of the previous evenings, as we witnessed, transfixed by sound, the wilful disintegration of the old order and the cathartic removal of the curse which condemns mankind to perpetual tragedy.
Although this was great by any standards, "concert performance", being not the full euro, reduces expectations. The cast, not in costume, performed on the narrow ledge in front of the on-stage orchestra, or in the organ loft behind, which is where Siegfried and Brünnhilde disappeared to for a night of love at the end of Part III.
There they woke with the bust of Proms founder Henry Wood between them, at the start of Götterdämmerung. In fact Brünnhilde emerged with a different partner after an overnight cast-change, the part of Siegfried now sung by Andreas Schager, an unusually slender and youthful-looking Heldentenor and a big star in the making. He had a tendency sometimes to swallow words, but he sang with the golden tone which his predecessor lacked and performed the role with such boyish joie-de-vivre, punching the air and pirouetting like a goalscorer, that one was quite convinced by his innocent naivety.
Anna Samuil’s Gutrune loved the hero in admiring, cheer-leader terms, although one felt she might have responded as easily to the sleazy charm of Siegfried’s nemesis Hagen, sung with testosterone-rich gruffness by Mikhail Petrenko. Stemme’s Brünnhilde actually connived with him in the death of her apparently treacherous lover, but was always in command of her own will. She sang with steely warmth, evoked sympathy in her despair and wonder at her courage. Her fate-acceptance scene with Waltraud Meier’s Valkyrie reached a new level of intensity. She inhabits totally the persona of Brünnhilde, sharing the charismatic authority which persuaded even her horse to leap into the flames beneath her.
Barenboim conducted the Berlin Staatskapelle like a painter, shading and shaping the motifs like psychological shadows, fisting the juddering chords of the Funeral Music as if it were personal. He embraced the leader, last week’s on-stage disagreement in Walküre forgotten. The season cannot possibly replicate the impact of these performances, but there will be calls for future week-long Rings in the Proms, not least from this quarter.
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