Classical music review: HK Phil does Wagner proud with triumphant Die Walküre

Towering second instalment of the Ring cycle serves up passion and drama in equal measures

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 January, 2016, 1:20pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 January, 2016, 1:33pm

Crowned with a standing ovation, this opera-in-concert was a triumph for orchestra and singers alike. The suspense was taut in the hands of conductor Jaap van Zweden throughout the almost five-hour drama and conveyed with impassioned singing and splendid playing by the huge orchestra, with extra players including brass and harp recruited from Germany, Australia and theUS.

For those dubious of Wagner’s elongated time scale, it made sense in the context of this live performance. The ecstatic, overwhelming climaxes more than justified the long build-ups.

After three or four hours the audience felt like friends invited to a grand party – and you could sense the budding Ring addicts.

The Ring cycle fomented a craze in its day and spawned imitators right down to the latest John Williams soundtrack, but there is nothing like the original for depth and complexity. The music has two streams – love and power – and delves into the dark pools of each.

The orchestra was in fine form in the stormy overture. Act I featured soprano Heidi Melton as Sieglinde, tenor Stuart Skelton as Siegmund, and bass-baritone Falk Struckmann as Hunding.

All the soloists were astonishing in range and power, true in pitch, beautiful in timbre, without mannerisms or excessive vibrato.

Skelton’s effortless golden voice soared over the orchestra and was convincing in every mood from woe to bliss. His drawn-out cries of “Waelse”, his father’s name, were a high point in Act I.

Richard Bamping’s cello solo was the perfect embodiment of the lyrical line, bass clarinetist Lorenzo Iosco added haunting solos, and the brass played with fierce power.

The intense debate in Act II between the god, Wotan, sung by baritone Matthias Goerne, and his wife Fricka, sung by mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung, had equal pathos on both sides. Goerne’s velvety, eloquent voice was sometimes covered by the orchestra. His gestures such as rubbing his nose and looking down at his music suggested his recital career rather than the opera stage, but these were petty issues swept aside by his sensitive characterisation. DeYoung’s powerful voice made a compelling case for a woman betrayed.

In Act III’s Ride of the Valkyries, the eight women’s voices were terrifyingly united. Wotan’s farewell to his daughter Brünnhilde (soprano Petra Lang) was wrenching. Lang was electrifying as a warrior maiden and touching in fear.

In the orchestral finale time seemed to stop as the magical fire music spun on.

The Ring Cycle Part 2 – Die Walküre

Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

Cultural Centre Concert Hall

Reviewed: January 23