MSO: De Walkure Act 1

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Published: 29th August, 2018

This was a night for Wagner tragics.  Two world-class international soloists, Eva-Maria Westbroek, and Frank Van Aken were supported by Australian Daniel Sumegi, in an all-Wagner program, whose full title was “De Walkure Act 1. Opera in Concert”. It was at Hamer Hall on Saturday, August 25, 2018 and featured artists of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. It began with Siegfried Idyll an early example of a symphonic poem, to show off Wagner’s softer side,  written as a birthday-cum-Christmas present for his new wife Cosima, following her divorce from Hans von Bulow.  Wagner had written and rehearsed the work in private, and had it performed as a surprise on Christmas morning. The work was later incorporated into the opera Siegfried. The MSO chamber group, with conductor Sir Andrew Davis, gave a suitably gentle performance.

The main event was De Walkure Act 1, with the two Dutch soloists as Sieglinde  (Westbroek) and Siegmund, (van Aken) and an augmented orchestra. Sieglinde is Westbroek’s signature role, and she has performed it around the world, including at Bayreuth. Likewise, Van Aken has performed Siegmund many times. Bass Daniel Sumegi, had a minor role as Hunding, but it was nonetheless a compelling performance.

Performing in character on a concert stage the soloists were able to draw out the emotion and nuances of this work in a way that may not have been evident in a full-blown operatic performance. A concert version like this allows for no distractions, so there’s a laser-like concentration on the singers.

Westbroek has an extraordinary range and clarity, capable of climbing to the highest registers with ease. And unlike many Wagnerian sopranos she is remarkably versatile, embracing the Baroque and Romantic repertoires.

Superbly conducted by Davis the orchestra’s accompaniment was sympathetic, deft and sprightly.

If there’s to be any criticism, it is that the concert was poorly attended.  Maybe it was because Wagner is not Melbourne’s cup of tea. If that is so then perhaps it should not have been programmed.  Personally I don’t buy that.  A better explanation is that the concert was poorly promoted, surprisingly so given the stature of the performers.

Editor’s note: The above comments are borne out by other Classic Melbourne writers and the audience members they chatted to  after the MSO performance. It was recently announced that Opera Australia will provide another opportunity to hear Eva-Maria Westbroek and Jonas Kaufmann (another of the biggest names in opera) for concert versions of Giordano’s  Andrea Chénier , as part of the Opera’s 2019 subscription series.

The Melbourne Symphony  Orchestra  performance under chief conductor Andrew Davis was “superb” by all accounts.   The MSO is now embarking on a broad range of concerts including for children and regional supporters, bookending September with Holst’s  The Planets and; later,  music of one of the world’s most renowned video games in the Australian premiere of Final Symphony: Music from FINALFANTASY®.