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Die Walkure review at Royal Opera House, London – ‘a welcome revival’

Stuart Skelton and Emily Magee in Die Walkure at the Royal Opera House. Photo: Bill Cooper Stuart Skelton and Emily Magee in Die Walkure at the Royal Opera House. Photo: Bill Cooper
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Stockhausen’s seven-opera cycle Licht aside, Wagner’s vast operatic tetralogy the Ring remains the most ambitious (and costly) project an opera house can undertake. Even with top ticket prices at up to £300, though, the Royal Opera’s revival of Keith Warner’s cycle, new in 2004/5, looks sure to sell out.

Just as Wagner’s leitmotifs represent individual characters or ideas, Stefanos Lazaridis’s set is dominated by a helix: a physical manifestation of the biological ties between the sibling lovers Siegmund and Sieglinde and between Wotan and his daughter Brunnhilde (chief Valkyrie).

Indeed, in the final scene, where Wotan punishes Brunnhilde for contravening his word (though she has actually acted according to his heart’s wish), John Lundgren and Nina Stemme respectively convince us – to unsettlingly intimate effect – that they are part of the same being. At the end of the opera, the helix becomes the ring of fire with which Wotan surrounds Brunnhilde after abandoning her on the mountain top – another striking symbol, this time perhaps of the destruction of the family tie.

But the drama fails to take flight. The sets are abstract and dimly lit, while the costumes span a hotch-potch of styles and periods.

Moments of sword-wielding look awkward and, in his first Wotan for the Royal Opera, John Lundgren appears lacking in vocal strength and, though tall, in physical gravitas. There’s often a mismatch, between music and drama, for instance in the Ride of Valkyries – whipped into visceral life by Sir Antonio Pappano in the pit, while the Valkyries’ on stage unconvincingly hold skeletal horse-heads aloft.

But Nina Stemme is predictably wondrous as Brunnhilde, Sarah Connolly coolly perfunctory as Wotan’s wife Fricka; and Stuart Skelton’s suitably heroic Siegmund is matched by Emily Magee’s vulnerable but robustly sung Sieglinde.

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Welcome revival, with a mostly strong cast, that overall fails to take flight