Die Walküre/The Madness of an Extraordinary Plan - review

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

"In the entire history of art, no one has succeeded as I have," Roger Allam's Wagner rants in Gerard McBurney's The Madness of an Extraordinary Plan, commissioned by the Manchester international festival to precede the Hallé's two-day performance of Die Walküre. Collated from writings by Wagner and his contemporaries, the play examines both the genesis of the Ring cycle and the world of the egomaniac who created it.

Allam plays the composer, while Deborah Findlay and Sara Kestelman bitch, snipe and enthuse as various detractors and admirers. Mark Elder and the orchestra, meanwhile, perform extracts and early sketches, some of which did not make it into the finished cycle. It is too self-consciously erudite to work as an introduction. But it was classily done and contains some dazzling scenes – above all, a sequence in which the toil and clang of Wagner's Nibelheim illustrate Engels's descriptions of industrial Manchester.

Die Walküre itself was hampered a bit by the two-day format. In act one, the slow, seamless beauty of Elder's conducting wasn't balanced by the requisite tension at a couple of crucial points – the opening storm, Hunding's incipient violence – and we had to wait overnight until act two for the performance to exert what proved to be a formidable grip.

Egils Silins's Wotan was the dominant vocal presence – intelligent, beautiful sounding, and intensely tragic, both in his confrontation with Susan Bickley's smirkingly proud Fricka and his scenes with Susan Bullock's wild-child Brünnhilde. Yvonne Howard, singing Sieglinde for the first time and at short notice, was eloquent, if occasionally cautious. Stig Andersen's was her clarion Siegmund, Clive Bayley the implacable, dangerous Hunding. Orchestrally, it was sensational.


Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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