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Wagner 200 in London - review Royal Festival Hall, London

05.13.13
Sir Andrew Davis
The Guardian

By Martin Kettle

Wagner in the concert hall is an inevitable compromise, but this 200th-birthday anniversary concert, which also launched London's Wagner 200 festival, lacked nothing for commitment to the master's cause. The Bayreuth-style triple fanfare summonses into the hall before both parts of the concert were a nice celebratory touch, while Sir Andrew Davis, who made a short speech beforehand, is a conductor who has always revelled in special occasions.

With a programme comprising the Meistersingers overture, the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and the third act of Die Walküre, this was a greatest-hits evening. But although it was fundamentally a celebration of Wagner himself, it was also a showcase of the rich and continuing British Wagnerian tradition, with all the principal singers and the conductor native born, and not a German in sight.

Davis's Wagnerian credentials may surprise. He has conducted little of the composer's work in the UK, but in his long years in charge of Chicago's Lyric Opera he has turned himself into a thoroughly reliable Wagner conductor, with an excellent sense of line and structure that was particularly evident in the Walküre act, ingeniously and atmospherically semi-staged on a shoestring by David Edwards.

Susan Bullock was the evening's vocal lynchpin, characteristically sympathetic and intelligent as both Isolde and Brünnhilde. As in the Covent Garden Ring last autumn, the lightness of her upper register and a troublesome vibrato in the Liebestod made Bullock, in the end, an artfully touching rather than instinctive exponent of these roles. James Rutherford's Wotan was full and visceral of voice in just the way Bullock is not, while lacking, as yet, some of the vocal refinement with which she is so endowed. Giselle Allen blazed in Sieglinde's brief appearance, and Katherine Broderick's big sound stood out in an excitingly wild bunch of Valkyries.