Festival Opera


Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

five stars

MOST of us will go to our graves without a full understanding of the symbolism in Wagner’s narrative of his Ring cycle, and losing little sleep about it, but anyone who has heard the music, with its recurring motifs and haunting cadences, recognises its unique character.

The best performers of it, and the Edinburgh International Festival has invited many of them over the past four years as the saga has unfolded in annual instalments, tell the story with utter conviction but with the focus on the notes. With Americans Ronnita Miller and Erin Wall flanking Arbroath’s Karen Cargill as the Norns who open the narrative, and Greek soprano Danae Kontora and Anglo-German Claudia Huckle on either side of Edinburgh’s Catriona Morison as the Rhinemaidens who return in Act III, there was luxury international casting across this whole concert, with only Cargill doubling a role. Her scene as Waltraute with Christine Goerke’s Brunnhilde, the most intimate of this last part of the cycle – even if Cargill made her surprising first entrance in the Grand Circle – remained one of the most memorable sections of the evening, over four hours later.

Cargill's interactions with those around her onstage set the standard for individual performances of small gestures, with Samuel Youn’s brief appearance as Alberich the most animated, and Estonian bass Ain Anger quietly menacing as Hagen. If that singer was spookily well-named, the presence of Amber Wagner (from Oregon) and Austrian Josef Wagner as Gutrune and Gunther was almost too good to be true.

The story of Gotterdammerung is Brunnhilde’s however, and Goerke was astonishing throughout, musically commanding and also capable of appearing utterly vulnerable. She could look an Usher Hall that was packed to the rafters directly in the eye, and conjure the image of a Valkyrie’s war-horse trotting up through the stalls to join her.

A chorus of 65 young singers from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and a 100-strong edition of the RSNO, under the baton of Sir Andrew Davis, were the muscle behind this stellar front-line. The real theatre of this magnificent culmination to the cycle, and EIF 2019, was all in that music. Carefully coloured horns and brass, onstage and off, and some exquisite wind solos, were the details in a magnificent ensemble performance.