The idea of performing a cycle of Wagner’s Ring at the BBC Proms with four completely different ensembles has succeeded better than anybody could have imagined. It would have been difficult to surpass the unforgettable Die Walküre of two years ago but Sunday’s performance of Götterdämmerung, the fourth and final instalment, was in no way a disappointment.
In the great arena of the Royal Albert Hall the Ring has a setting on its own epic scale and it is easy for the audience to feel involved, like 5,000 extra Nibelungs joining the cast of a Cecil B. DeMille spectacular. This cycle was a one-off, but its success should spur more Wagner at the Proms in future.
If so, getting Donald Runnicles and the BBC Symphony Orchestra back together again will be a must. They were the glory of this performance, producing a Wagnerian sound in the hall’s spacious acoustic that could rival Bayreuth. Runnicles’ strength in Wagner is his ability to make everything sound natural, but here he pushed out the boundaries – Siegfried set out on his Rhine journey as if he was travelling by rocket; the funeral march was shattering in its sonic grandeur. I have never heard the BBC Symphony Orchestra play better.
Against this awesome backdrop it would take superhuman singers to measure up. Christine Brewer, taking on Brünnhilde for the first time, is not one of those, but her singing was always steady and true. As her Siegfried, Stig Andersen gave his all, making every word count and always producing a warm, unforced sound. Although John Tomlinson’s days in Walhalla may now be running out, his Hagen remains an extraordinary, larger-than-life character and was trenchantly sung.
Two other performances were outstanding – Alan Held as Gunther and Karen Cargill as Waltraute – and Gweneth-Ann Jeffers’ Gutrune and Gordon Hawkins’ Alberich were also appreciable. The Norns and Rhinemaidens were of high quality. Overall, there was little to regret, except maybe the feeble flame-effect lighting on the ceiling at the end. It really was not necessary.
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