Ladies of the ring

The Rhinemaidens

The Rhinemaidens: Sarah Castle (Flosshilde), Madeleine Shaw (Wellgunde) and Katherine Broderick (Woglinde)


Opera North

Birmingham Symphony Hall


OPERA North’s four year Ring Cycle at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall came to its stupendous conclusion with Götterdämmerung.

The six hour epic ties up all the strings and brings together all the stories to its catastrophic end. In fact it’s less Twilight of the Gods than Total Annihilation of the Gods.

The only ones still standing, or rather swimming, are the Rhinemaidens who have finally reclaimed the Rhinegold – whose theft upset the natural order in the first place.

It’s no easy task to maintain a first act of two and a half hours but full marks to the Orchestra of Opera North who never falter and ensure Wagner’s beautiful music is given centre stage. Watching an opera orchestra is a delight in itself as the musicians are so often hidden away at full stagings.

Conductor Richard Farnes ensures this concentration and fine tuning throughout the entire performance.

This production sits someway between fully staged and concert performance with three screens above the stage not only carrying the surtitles but also peppered with narrative and images of scenery, taking us from the Rhine to the mountains and into the hall of the Gibichungs.

All of the cast are wonderful. Alwyn Mellor is a mighty Brunnhilde. She is gentle and endearing in love and mourning but gloriously terrifying when on the path of vengeance. You wouldn’t want to get in this Valkyrie’s way!

Also impressive is Mats Almgren as the scheming Hagen. Evil enough to sacrifice his half-brother and half-sister to his machinations, he is yet so believable they all fall for his flattery. But we also see his own vulnerability when he is forced to face his even more monstrous father Alberich (Jo Pohlheim), the Nibelung dwarf who stole the Rhinegold and then saw it stolen in his turn.

Mati Turi plays Siegfried as a bit of a simpleton. He may be a great hero of Germanic tradition but he does fall prey to Hagen’s tricks and bring about Brunnhilde’s revenge. And when the Rhinemaidens warn that the ring is cursed and beg him to return it, he simply shrugs off ‘women’s wiles’ and heads off for a drink instead. It takes death and Brunnhilde’s eulogy to reinstate him as the great hero.

And so, at the end, we also see the destruction of the Gibichung siblings Gunther (Eric Greene) and Gutrune (Orla Boylan) who gave in to the temptation offered by Hagen but could not foresee its terrible results.

As the fires burn on Siegfried’s funeral pyre and at the hall of the Gods, Valhalla, the screens are filled with red flames and the orchestra finally becomes silent.

In Birmingham the applause and standing ovations were tremendous – and richly deserved. This really has been an epic journey.

The performance at Leeds Town Hall on June 18 has been recorded to be broadcast by BBC Radio 3 at some point and I would recommend keeping an ear out for it.

Diane Parkes


Contents page Symphony Hall Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre