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ENO programme

Scottish tenor's Wagner success in London

Posted 9 Dec 2021

English National Opera's new Ring cycle got under way on 19 November with the opening of a new production of The Valkyrie at the London Coliseum. 

On 4 December we saw the sixth of the eight performances, an evening of overall excellent quality. The music in the hands of ENO Music Director Martyn Brabbins was of a very high standard - wonderfully lyrical playing from the orchestra, beautifully paced, with the climaxes punched out with complete authority.

Anyone who remembers the first staging of this work by director Richard Jones - with Scottish Opera some thirty years ago - will have known to expect simple, highly imaginative, yet unconventional solutions. Jones continues to rethink the piece, and this concept was different from that earlier vision and also from his complete Covent Garden cycle that followed it. The new designs were by Stewart Laing - another individual with an extensive history in Scotland with various theatres over the years.

The basic idea is reminiscent of Canadian lumberjacks, with appropriate checked jackets.  The residence of Wotan and Fricka in Act 2 was a skeletal log cabin.  Brünnhilde clambered about on the furniture like a particularly stroppy teenager.

An excellent new translation by John Deathridge was introduced, sung with great clarity by all.

The singers were all new to their roles. The Scottish tenor Nicky Spence was on superb form as Siegmund. He had, it seems, suffered from cold at the start of the run, but here he sang gloriously from first note to last. His voice has developed powerfully since his early days as a lyric Mozartian. However he has retained a lovely sweetness to his tone, reminiscent of an ENO predecessor, the late Alberto Remedios. Spence's acted performance was also full of telling detail.

The other singers were also of consistent excellence. Rachel Nicholls began her Wagnerian career a decade ago with Scottish Opera as Senta, and her soprano is now tirelessly powerful with a beautiful gleam to the tone.  Emma Bell (Sieglinde), Brindley Sherratt (Hunding) and Matthew Rose (Wotan) were highly distinguished colleagues.  Susan Bickley, it seems, was so afflicted by cold on opening night that she was unable to do more than mime, while Claire Barnett-Jones (Rossweisse in the third act) sang from a box.  At our performance, needless to say, Bickley was returned to her usual magisterial form.

Remarkably this was also a production that lacked any visual indication of fire. Much was made by company management of the difficulty they had encountered in producing appropriate flames for the final scene. The plans were found to constitute unwarranted risk to the theatre, and were abandoned with nothing in place. It is to be hoped that an acceptable solution for this will be found if cycles are staged in London, and when, as planned, the production moves to the New York Met.

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