Michael Henderson

A familiar Ring

Their Die Walkure – simple, grey and full of winged helmets – was reassuringly old-fashioned. The rest of the Easter programme could have done with a spring clean – and some English music

Herbert von Karajan established the Easter Festival in Salzburg 50 years ago with a production of Die Walküre that is now considered legendary. In the sense that legends are rooted in memory, and mythological in substance, that much is true. Which is not to damn it with faint praise. This revival, staged by Vera Nemirova, was an old-fashioned representation of Wagner and many Wagnerians, having endured too many modern presentations of the Master, who has suffered more than any other composer from the curse of Regietheater, would say that that is No Bad Thing.

A giant ash tree, in whose hollowed-out trunk reside Hunding and Sieglinde, was the single, simple prop for the first act. The vast second act, the most significant dramatic stretch of the Ring cycle, its natural pivot, was played out on a ring-shaped walkway which, in the final act, became the rocky crop on which Wotan sends Brünnhilde into a sleep that will only be disturbed by Siegfried one whole opera later. There was little tonal variety, grey being the favoured colour, which works for a world of myth — it is not Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

If you had ever yearned to see, one more time, valkyries wearing breastplates and winged helmets this was a show to warm the cockles. The beginning of the third act, which is often an excuse to indulge in bad acting and gormless capering, worked very well here. Nemirova lined up the nine warrior-maidens first diagonally along the battlements and then across the front of the stage, as guardians. No bad acting. No capering. But some very good singing.

Musically it was superb. Christian Thielemann, who grew up, quite literally, at Karajan’s knee in Berlin, has long been considered, not least by himself, as his musical son and heir.

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