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Issue 1785 (PDF)
The student newspaper of Imperial College London

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Call me a Wagnerite!

Modern, accessible, yet authentic: the ENO delivers a production worthy of the man himself.

Photo: Tristram Kenton


in Issue 1785


The Valkyrie

★ ★ ★ ★
English National Opera
Until 10th December 2021
From £10 (Under-35 Discounts Available)

Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) is the second drama from the four chronological texts that complete Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung. It is, in a nutshell, an 1850s musical version of the Lord of the Rings. With a mission to be different, the English National Opera is currently housing a modern interpretation of the text that puts the spotlight firmly on the narrative and remarkable characterisation whilst remaining authentic and true to the source material. For those of you not familiar with opera—or even daunted by the prospect—The Valkyrie is an accessible and captivating first performance to get out and go see!

Since the events of Das Rheingold (the first text in the ring cycle), Wotan (Matthew Rose), the chief of gods, has fathered many bastard children to the chagrin of his wife Fricka (Susan Bickley). Of his children, the nine daughters are the Valkyries. Wotan himself is dressed as a lumberjack and emits the air of of a man weighed down by his own shortcomings and circumstances. His clear hubris is greed and, as this entangles him in many troubles, he directs his illegitimate brood to help him clean up the mess of his own making. To this end, he bestows upon them many talents before, ultimately, taking them away to his own bitter sorrow. 

Photo: Tristram Kenton
Matthew Rose and dancers in The Valkyrie

After his son Siegmund (Nicky Spence) falls in love with his twin sister, Fricka takes offense and demands that they must be punished. In great agony, Wotan commands Bruennhilde (Rachel Nicholls), his Valkyrie daughter, to kill the incestuous son. Bruennhilde is decked out as a fashionable, neon, rebel, tomboy princess — fit to kill. However, despite being instructed to let her half-brother die, his pure bravery ultimately wins the warrior over to his side. As punishment for her betrayal of trust, Wotan strips from Bruennhilde her status as a Valkyrie and curses her to marry whichever man finds her first — the brave warrior will have to submit to a husband. Even worse, marry an inferior weakling.

Embodying an untainted heroic angel, Nicholls as Bruennhilde was the clear standout of the evening. There was a clarity and power behind her voice that synergised with the orchestra in a wonderful way. Once every so often, the voices of the cast are overpowered by the orchestra but all is forgiven when the sweet spot is reached. The four harps, placed on equal footing with the stage, at times seem to extend the human voice.

Photo: Tristram Kenton
Nicky Spence in The Valkyrie

Initially the use of modern clothing rather than a replica of the traditional costumes came as a disappointment; however, it then dawned on me that contemporary outfits do not draw any attention, which created space for a focus on the personalities and emotions of the characters and, crucially, the story. Likewise, the decor is contemporary yet expertly supported the performance. Befitting of a Wagner, no effort is spared on providing a suitable décor — Wagner himself built a custom theatre to perform the ring cycle.

Photo: Tristram Kenton
Brindley Sherratt, Emma Bell, and Nicky Spence in The Valkyrie.

The Coliseum is packed with very enthusiastic operagoers. During intervals one hears the merry chatter of people who have missed this kind of entertainment under kindred spirits. During the second interval, an American voice behind me remarks: “this is actually enjoyable(!)”. And I'm inclined to agree with her: the duration may be daunting, but the opera is very accessible. It is entertaining like any other saga such as Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. Like Wagner intended: it is enjoyable without any refined taste or clever critiques.

Call me a Wagnerite!

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