Grange Park Opera: Die Walküre
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Stephen Barlow
Theatre in the Woods, West Horsley Place, Surrey
29 June 2017
Grange Park Opera closed the final season of their 18 year tenure at The Grange, Hampshire with a performance of Tristan & Isolde, so it was appropriate that their opening season in their new home in the Theatre in the Woods at West Horsley Place they should include more Wagner, in the shape of Die Walküre, the second part of Wagner’s Ring cycle. The first, 1870, performance was as an isolated opera: it wasn’t performed in a Ring cycle until 1876, so viewing it on its own has a degree of authenticity. And, shorn of the complexity and stamina of being part of a complete Ring cycle, witnessing the stand-alone opera allowed us to focus on the complexities of interpersonal interaction and relationships.
Director Stephen Medcalf and Jamie Vartan (set design) place the first act in a museum of curiosities in a Germanic country house, seemingly set around the time of Wagner – high on the wall at the back of the semi-circular gallery was what, I think, was this painting of the coronation of the Kaiser Wilhelm I. Display cases of stuffed animals and fish, glasses and knives surrounded the central tree trunk that should have become, but didn’t, the focus of one of the most dramatic moments in the opera. Although some way removed from Wagner’s intended tree house in a forest, it was an appropriate setting for the complex interaction between Hunding, Sieglinde, Siegmund. In the second act, the same background became a baronial hall with an enormous central circular table the focus of the interaction between Wotan, Fricka, and Siegmund. In the final act, large display cases housed the Valkyries before they burst forth, unhorsed, dragging around blood-soaked sacks with the bodies of their heroes. With a bit of imagination, all three settings could be seen as taking place within the same country mansion, with three similar semi-circular spaces opening from a fourth, in this case, the auditorium.
A rather curious superimposed acting role of a curator and a rather more useful domestic maid was a bit of a distraction. Reading the programme afterwards, I think the curator was supposed to be Alberich, which suggest that the maid might have represented Grimhilde, neither of whom have any role in Die Walküre, but assume knowledge of the rest of The Ring. The former certainly made an awkward and unwanted assault on the latter during the overture and, in act 2, raped her on the gallery, her bloodcurdling scream unheard or ignored by the arguing gods below. The concluding tableau hinted at more Ring operas to come. Other directorial oddities included the dramatic removal of the sword from the tree trunk, so clearly described in the text and key to the plot, being replaced by Siegmund’s rather tame shattering of a sugar-glass display case in the gallery – an action we are all capable of, and one that should have had the ‘curator’ rushing in to investigate. On the other hand, I rather liked the heated interchange between Fricka and a static Wotan taking place over afternoon tea. David Plater’s lighting added significantly to the staging.
This was rather more of an acoustic test for the new Theatre in the Wood than the earlier Jenůfa. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra used rather reduced forces from Wagner’s intentions, but still produced a grand and imposing sound, with notable contributions from the bass clarinet. Some of the brass and horn passages were a little underdone, but the pit design allowed for a reasonably powerful sound whilst allowing the singers to be heard. Conductor Stephen Barlow gave a sensitive reading of the score, allowing time for the singers and controlling the periodic extended ratcheting up of tension.
The singing was powerful and generally excellent. The cast was Siegmund: Bryan Register, Sieglinde: Claire Rutter, Hunding: Alan Ewing, Wotan: Thomas Hall, Fricka: Sara Fulgoni, and Brünnhilde: Jane Dutton. The Valkyries were Morag Boyle, Becca Marriott, Gemma Morsley, Anne-Marie Owens, Tanya Hurst, Mari Wyn Williams, Lauren Easton, Felicity Buckland, one of whom, unnamed in the programme, also acted the maid (I now gather this was Becca Marriott). They made a suitably dramatic contribution to the final act.
Production photos Robert Workman