Review, Die Walküre Act 1, City of Cardiff Symphony Orchestra, St Martin in Roath by James Ellis

Photo credit: James Ellis

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

There is a hunger to perform Wagner from amateur orchestras. Perhaps the demands asked from this problematic composer seem less daunting today, though command in vocals and a robust orchestra must simply give all.

Part of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, the remarkable four part, 15 hours behemoth, The Valkyrie is the second outing. This first act is the most intimate of the enquire Ring, with just three characters in an hour timeframe. The twins Siegmund and Sieglinde who were separated at birth, rediscover themself…with knowing romantic intentions. With the latter married to Hunding, this act sees the twins father Wotan loom over it’s entirety.

This is the only opera where the ring of power forged in the last part Das Rhinegold, is never seem and the actions of Wotan to secure his reclaiming of the ring again sets the story in motion. The lover twins leave Hunding in the night (who was already mortal enemies with Siegmund anyhow) pulling Wotan’s sword Nothung out of the massive tree in the centre of their lodgings as fate foretells.

I was impressed with the orchestra, filled with proclaiming Wagner Tubas, patient harps and pounding timpani. Sat in the front row, I also realised just how much orchestral weight there was to the celli, who get some ravishing moments in this opening act. The romantic feel towards the twins spreads over the musicians and they all get swept away in this strange love story. The swarm-like opening has the strings able and willing to muster up this piercing prelude, as Siegmund escapes the hunt from Hunding and his men in the forest. You can expect Wagner to be loud and the attractive church acoustic caught this thick sound to the roof.

Even with the sweeping amore, comes Wagner’s heavy later compositional style. Our three soloists did a grand job of keep the pace and the drama up for the duration. As Hunding, James Platt oozed into it the horrid nature of this villain. His bass was like a very fine honey, the snarling, vicious line tackled well and you could very easily see him on stage in the role.

Fiona Harrison-Wolfe made for a resplendent Sieglinde, though on a few occasions the orchestra drowned her out. Never an easy role, this being the only character in all three huge acts of Valkyrie, Sieglinde boats high register climaxes and more sincere, homely moments too. Fiona ventured well into this, also thanks to the support from tenor Gareth Dafydd Morris as the love interest. Gareth is a familiar face in Cardiff, this feels like a treat for him.

The declaratory and soaring vocals of Siegmund gave Gareth time to shine, the duet at the end with Fiona a highlight. Affirmed conductor Martin McHale had lots of rehearsal time with the players and it showed. Some brass and light woodwind fluffs may have been expected, due to the demands put upon them but it went along without a hitch. 

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