Burning ring of fire

By Leslie Kandell
Monday, July 22, 2013
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Pictured: Katarina Dalayman and Bryn Terfel perform Saturday night at Tanglewood (Hilary Scott photo).

The magic fire, that is, where Brunnhilde (everyone’s favorite Valkyrie) is punished by her father, the god Wotan, who puts her to sleep on a rock until a hero braves the flames made by the fire-god (to protect her from ordinary men), rescuing her and winning her love.

That’s a mouthful to follow, but in describing Wagner’s four-opera “Ring” cycle, sentences drag on, confusing references creep in, and too much explanation is never enough. Saturday night at Tanglewood, the final act of Part Two,“The Valkyrie,” made up the entire huge and gripping performance. That’s about the maximum Wagnerian volume and angst that listeners can absorb without a sensory boost from staging.

Former Boston Symphony music director James Levine would have planned this program: star singers from the Metropolitan Opera belting out the repertory’s heavyweight while the orchestra skillfully bloated itself into a four-harp Wagner ensemble. Brunnhilde (sung by Katarina Dalayman, among the foremost Wagner sopranos of our time) and the other Valkyries were making Tanglewood debuts. So was Lothar Koenigs, the German-born music director of the Welsh National Opera, whose terrific conducting kept a consistent balance between voices and orchestra. Everyone was on display.

The Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, a compelling giant, arrives here every few years and mesmerizes audiences with his vocal quality in any range, his ability to convey emotion without costume or prop, and a Bill-Clintonesque personality: he feels your pain. This phenomenal guy can sing Wotan, Figaro, Danny Boy -- and even, as he did in a recital Thursday, lead a good-natured singalong of “Home on the Range.” Wotan, greedy, unfair and faithless, makes a faulty god, but Terfel shows his struggles, making the audience, well, feel his pain.

 

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