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Die Walküre, Act One (Melbourne Symphony Orchestra) ★★★★

ABR Arts 27 August 2018

Die Walküre, Act One (Melbourne Symphony Orchestra) ★★★★

ABR Arts 27 August 2018

Notwithstanding the riches that follow in the final two acts (Wotan’s Farewell, the Ride of the Valkyries, the Todesverkündigung), Act One of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre offers perhaps the greatest hour of music in German opera. It is ideal for discrete, unstaged performances, and as we know from last week’s sensational WASO Tristan und Isolde in Perth, the pleasures of concert performances are considerable, especially when fine singing actors and a symphony orchestra are available. If this is the only way we can hear masterly works of this kind every few years rather once every three decades (Rings being as expensive as they are), all the better. Still, they pose challenges for marketing teams, as we saw on Saturday.

MSO has performed Act One of Die Walküre three times in the past fourteen years – first with Oleg Caetani (2004), then with Markus Stenz (2012). Stuart Skelton was a magnificent Siegmund in 2012, and one can only imagine how extraordinary this concert might have been had Skelton joined Westbroek. (They were meant to sing together in Perth, but Westbroek withdrew from the concert.)

Andrew Davis knows this music intimately, and his rapport with this orchestra is profound: he has raised the ensemble to a new level. The playing throughout was superb, and all the glories of the score were accentuated. David Berlin’s cello solo was notable, and the horns were exceptional.

Eva-Maria Westbroek, as Sieglinde, sang magnificently, despite her recent indisposition. She has performed this role in some of the major opera houses, including Bayreuth, the Met, and the Royal Opera House. Tall, long-haired, in a dark sequined gown, she was in character from the start, even as she hunched on her chair throughout the storm that batters the hut she shares with Hunding and that signals the arrival of Siegmund, exhausted and fleeing his enemies. Westbroek sang with immense power and verbal clarity. Heeding Wagner’s text, we ‘listened carefully to what she had to tell us’ when Sieglinde, in ‘Der Männer Sippe’, recalled the stranger who interrupted her bleak wedding feast and embedded the sword in an ash tree. ‘Du bist der Lenz’ was sung with equal force and absorption. This was a glorious performance from the Dutch soprano.

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