Richard Bratby

40 per cent sublime, 60 per cent ridiculous: ENO’s The Valkyrie reviewed

This erratic new production contains the seeds of a worthwhile Ring – but there’s a lot to fix

By Act Three it looked as if Richard Jones had run out of ideas (or possibly budget) – but Emma Bell, as Sieglinde, was tremendous. © Tristram Kenton

It’s the final scene of The Valkyrie and Wotan is wearing cords. They’re a sensible choice for a hard-working deity: practical but with a certain retro flair. Slumbering under a red puffer jacket lies his daughter Brünnhilde, and as Wagner’s music yearns and flickers, the Lord of Ravens shuffles slowly around on all fours, methodically attaching the carabiners for the climactic flying effect. First one, then another. Then another. Four more to go! Possibly we’re not meant to be seeing this. Possibly it was meant to be obscured by the ‘large final fire effect’ that a slip in the programme tells us has been cut (‘despite extensive planning’) at the last minute. But right now, this is the climax: the moment of catharsis after five hours of wrenching music-drama. A hipster dad doing a spot of DIY.

Well, that’s live theatre, says the critic with his complimentary ticket. If I’d paid £180 for a seat I might be wondering why English National Opera couldn’t at least have mustered a bit of stage smoke. Or a video projection, whatever — even an orange spotlight with a flame-effect gobo would have been an improvement on this bathetic shrug of defeat. Coming at the end of an evening peppered with miscalculations and simple bad luck — noises off, sets that resembled trip hazards, one principal succumbing to a cold and another who already had — it reinforced a growing impression that ENO was presenting a paying audience with a slightly shaky dress rehearsal, rather than a finished show.

Brünnhilde is a sk8er grrl with brand-new Nikes and a voice of pure sunlight

True, the first part of a projected Ring cycle is always a work in progress, but Richard Jones’s conception felt under-realised. The setting is dystopian-contemporary. The Valkyries wear green cagoules, and Hunding (Brindley Sherratt) is a backwoods survivalist, whose T-shirted minions loll around his hut forking canned food straight from the tin.

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