Nina Stemme, John Lundgren, Stuart Skelton, Emily Magee, Sarah Connolly, Ain Ainger, Lise Davidsen; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden/Antonio Pappano; Dir. Keith Warner (London, 2018)
Opus Arte DVD: OA1308D Blu-ray: OABD7270D 240 mins
Antonio Pappano has always had a special relationship with the Ring’s second part. The burgeoning lyricism of the Walküre score and the complex interrelations between all too human Gods and Men seem to tug at a very particular musical nerve for this conductor, and the Royal Opera House Orchestra rewards him with some of its most sumptuous playing. The cast in this 2018 staging would have been the envy of every world class opera company. The result is just short of perfection, as Pappano does rather push the tempos, relentlessly sometimes in the opening storm, or as Wotan pursues the disobedient Brünnhilde and the ride of the warrior maidens. Still, it is exciting.
Keith Warner’s production still veils its meanings, though the whole cycle has been decluttered since it first was staged at the Royal Opera House. There are telling details – the chaise longue with the rams horn handles on which Wotan endeavours to coax Fricka round to his point of view about the death of Siegmund, and the pyromaniac thrill engendered when Brünnhilde is imprisoned in flames.
What Warner shows us is the frailty of these characters. Emily Magee’s Sieglinde is terrified as well as in love, while Stuart Skelton’s Siegmund seems a kind of little boy lost. Sarah Connolly is a conflicted Fricka and John Lundgren a magisterial Wotan who cannot control his volcanic anger as he loses control of his project to save the Gods. But it’s Nina Stemme, as it should be, who defines this production. Generously voiced, she is essentially a lyric Brünnhilde, most moving when she tells Sieglinde that she is bearing Siegmund’s son and there’s that swell of symphonic sympathy in the pit.