This was one of those nights to remember at the BBC Proms. It might have seemed impossible that anything would equal the performance of Die Walküre given by the Royal Opera in 2005, when Plácido Domingo made his Proms debut, but at the very least this ran it close.
By the second opera in this Ring it is clear that the exceptional playing of the Staatskapelle Berlin will be the ongoing glory of the cycle. Having been immersed in Wagner with Daniel Barenboim since he arrived at the Staatsoper in 1992, the players have acquired a deep and natural understanding of how the music should go. At the end of the second act Barenboim furiously berated the leader of the orchestra, apparently because he felt the violins had been dragging (not that anybody else noticed). Perhaps Berlin audiences expect to hear Wagner played better than this on a daily basis. Nobody else in the world does.
After a modestly sung Rheingold on Monday, the big guns were brought out for the cast of Die Walküre. There is surely no finer pair of Wagner singers around than Nina Stemme and Bryn Terfel. On another very hot night in the hall, both seemed at times to be suffering. Terfel, his brow glistening with perspiration, was visibly about to melt by the end. But how they sang! In the past couple of years Stemme has stepped forward as the next international-quality Brünnhilde, a rock-solid singer with a voice of real size and mezzo-like depth, even if she sings strangely occluded words. Terfel’s Wotan is simply a towering portrayal. From the innermost nooks of Wotan’s mind to the soaring heights of his lofty vision, Terfel now has every aspect of Wagner’s greatest operatic creation powerfully within his grasp.
There were no weaknesses. Anja Kampe, who always gives 100 per cent, was at her exciting best as Sieglinde, supported by the confident, bright-voiced Siegmund of Simon O’Neill. Ekaterina Gubanova made an intensely dramatic job of Fricka’s scene of marital showdown and Eric Halfvarson offered a fearsome, near-caricature of Hagen. The Valkyries were a wild, shrieky bunch, but nobody is likely to have minded. Wagner nights are rarely as inspiring as this.