‘About as big as it gets’: behind the scenes of Wagner’s The Valkyrie at English National Opera | Opera

This is about as big as it will get, says English National Opera’s music director Martyn Brabbins. Wagner’s Ring Cycle – the Mount Everest of opera, is about 16 hours of music in whole, and the final problem for any firm. Director Richard Jones is staging all 4 operas in new English translations over the subsequent few years. The cycle begins on 19 November at the London Coliseum with the second in the tetralogy, The Valkyrie – which is about 5 hours lengthy. Brabbins will likely be conducting virtually 100 musicians, so many who the containers closest to the stage will accommodate 4 harps, timpani and percussion; forged and crew quantity many extra. The Ring is a miraculous piece of work, says Jones. “I’ve at all times loved occupied with it. I am keen on it. I’m hooked on it.”

The Valkyrie (Die Walküre) is commonly staged as a standalone work. Its third act opens with Trip of the Valkyries, one of opera’s best-known moments, depicting the eight Valkyries – warrior sisters of Brünnhilde, our heroine and daughter of Wotan, ruler of the gods – bearing heroes slain in battle to Valhalla. However there are a number of hours extra, involving incest, homicide, ardour, betrayal, battles, loyalty and love.

Nicky Spence (beneath, entrance), like most of the forged, is making his function debut. “I’m singing Siegmund. I’m a misanthrope who by no means appears to have the ability to get issues proper and appears to piss off everybody else alongside the approach, till he meets Sieglinde – who he doesn’t know is his twin sister. They’re each coping with enormous abandonment points. They don’t actually know the place they’ve come from, the place they slot in. Actually, they should put their emotional baggage points in the maintain. That is all unfurled in act one, gloriously. Siegmund has obtained some of the most lyrical, stunning music Wagner ever wrote. I really feel so fortunate.”

Matthew Rose (Wotan, left), Nicky Spence (Siegmund, right) and Brindley Sherratt (Hunding).

At this tech rehearsal, the forged are in costume – which is modern gown – however not wigs or make-up. Most put on Covid masks once they’re not singing, as does everybody round the constructing. “It’s so good to not be put in a loopy costume, says Spence. “My wig is nice, although … a sort of 90s Keanu Reeves horny Bear Grylls survivor look.”

Matthew Rose (Wotan).

Matthew Rose sings Wotan, one-eyed king of the gods. Inform us the story? “A brother and sister meet and fall in love not figuring out who they’re. Then, in act two, Siegmund must be killed as a result of incest is unsuitable. I inform Brünnhilde he has to die in battle, however she goes in opposition to that as a result of she believes in the love he and Sieglinde have. So Wotan has to show up and kill him. Act three is mainly Brünnhilde being instructed off, however I’m distraught to must punish her. She has to lie on a rock with fireplace round her till a hero can rescue her. It’s really a fairly easy story for 5 and a half hours.”

Matthew Rose (Wotan) and Rachel Nicholls (Brünnhilde).

“It was 25 years in the past that I first heard this piece and I knew even then it was one thing I might like to do,” says Rose. “The music impacts me a lot. I used to be attributable to sing the function in January for a live performance efficiency that was, of course, cancelled, however Covid at least means I’ve had 18 months to work on it and actually take into consideration it and soak up it. I should have 53 recordings of Die Walküre. I’m a bit of a geek like that. It’s good to return to the rating and, having heard the place the timber have sprouted up in the efficiency historical past, simply to clear all that out and do it afresh.”

Richard Jones (Director) with Rosy (Stage Manager, left) and Matthew Rose (Wotan, red jacket).

The manufacturing

It’s a such a privilege to work with Richard,” says Rose. “Each phrase, each nuance, the whole lot has such which means.” “Richard makes it all about the characters. He’s obtained such an attractive thoughts,” says Spence. “We’ve had reams and reams of notes. As a result of the set will not be flashy it’s all about the interplay between the characters. The place have they arrive from, the place are they going, and the relationships between them.”

The forged is all British, and most are making their function debuts. “That meant they introduced a freshness and curiosity to the rehearsal room, and a have to be actually nourished as to what I believe the scenes are about,” says Jones. “However when you get on stage, they’re bombarded with technical stuff and I’m saying issues like ‘Put your foot there. Stand like this.’”

Tech rehearsals for a new production of Wagner’s The Valkyrie
Tech rehearsals for a new production of Wagner’s The Valkyrie

The day of the tech rehearsal, Jones and his staff are grappling with dangerous information from Westminster council, which has simply vetoed all the fireplace results on stage. “The first line of the play is: ‘This fireplace isn’t mine so I’ll keep right here,’ and the final line is: ‘I’ll encompass you with my magic fireplace,’ says Jones. “It’s actually severe. I don’t know what we’re going to do … there’s councils of conflict happening as we converse.”

How a lot sleep are you getting? “This week? Not a lot! You do say: ‘I’ll by no means have a sleepless night time over a present.’ I’ve vowed that so many occasions… however sure, the Westminster council factor is a blow. Your thoughts does race.”

Clare Esnault (left) and Mikaela Hale, freelance prop makers, in the props department. Bodies are prepared in the props room. This dummy corpse is known as Marty, because he reminds the technicians of Marty McFly from Back to the Future

The props

  • Claire Esnault (left) and Mikaela Hale, freelance prop makers, in the props division with the dummy corpse Marty

In the props room, issues are comparatively calm, if bloody. The staff are prepping the dummies that symbolize the fallen warriors that lie throughout the stage as act three opens. “In contrast with a present like Satyagraha [Phelim McDermott’s spectacular staging of Philip Glass’s opera has just finished a run] it’s fairly prop-light really,” says senior prop technician Katie.

Instructions for exactly how to lay each dummy corpse in position on stage

The whole lot is made in home by the ENO props staff. The dummies are all totally articulated in order that when they’re up in the flies they cling and swing like actual corpses. Some have been given names. I’m launched to Marty (above), so named as a result of the staff assume he appears like Marty McFly. Boris lies on a close-by shelf, union jack flag defiantly in hand. He’s half of a special manufacturing – HMS Pinafore. “He used to scare us each time we walked into the room.” It’s a agency no to my suggestion of sneaking him on stage as a further fallen warrior. “They’d have an apoplectic match.”

A Boris Johnson dummy for a different production being stored in the props room
The props room
The props room

There’s crimson grape juice for the wine, however the tinned fruit? It seems that partly of the motion, Hunding and his males have to tear open and eat what appears like a tin of pet food. “We prep it with a hole backside and put mandarins in as a substitute,” says Katie.

The spears are very delicate and danger shedding their suggestions in the event that they fall over. The staff have to ensure the faux one one is given to the proper particular person to be thrown on to the floor as the “actual” ones would smash into items.

Act three and its black snow

Act three options 25 minutes of black snow falling from the skies. The plastic has been handled to be non-flammable and is being recycled for re-use in every present. The props crew laboriously sweep it up and return it to bin liners.

Emma Bell (Sieglinde) tries to get plastic black snow out of her hair.
The props team arrange dummy corpses, 10 in all, on stage. Each position has been carefully planned out in advance by the Set Designer

“It will get in every single place … caught on our bodies (actual and faux), in hair, on garments. I’ve swept this ground 5 occasions already. ”

Rachel Nicholls, backstage, as Brünnhilde

Rachel Nicholls as Brünnhilde

Brünnhilde is courageous and powerful, however she is a young person who doesn’t know very a lot about human love, says the soprano Rachel Nicholls. “She takes it upon herself to disobey her father’s orders at monumental price to herself. And but I believe she’s extra emotionally clever than him. She makes her case for herself very effectively and will get her punishment commuted into one thing she will be able to deal with. Though she’s going to be deserted on the rock, Wotan goes to encompass her by a hoop of fireplace so solely a hero courageous sufficient to struggle by way of can wake her.” (Spoiler alert: that is available in the third opera, Siegfried.)

Matthew Rose (Wotan) and Rachel Nicholls (Brünnhilde).
A detail of Rachel Nicholls (Brünnhilde) costume.

“The approach we’re representing this on this manufacturing is I’m flown on wires about six or seven toes above the stage, simply suspended by Wotan’s big cuddly crimson coat, which he’s been sort sufficient to wrap me in earlier than he’s put me to sleep. I’m alleged to be in a state of suspended animation till the subsequent opera and so it’s poor Matthew (Wotan) who must be accountable for clipping my harness to the wires. We’ve practised it rather a lot. The aerial stuff is tremendous thrilling.”

Matthew Rose (Wotan, red) with Laura ? (horse).

Brünnhilde’s horse, Grane, is dropped at life by dancer Lauren Bridle, pictured right here backstage being helped into the headdress.

Martyn Brabbiins, conductor

The music

“The factor to recollect about the Ring operas is that the majority of the musical curiosity is in the pit,” says conductor Martyn Brabbins. “The singers sing nice phrases and nice melodies, however most of the drama and emotion and characterisation comes from the orchestra. It’s this superb internet of seamless creativity. The whole lot is characterised brilliantly, from darkness to gentle, anger to happiness, love and sweetness, to all types of dramatic interactions between the characters, and the overwhelming majority of it is finished by the orchestra. Which is nice for me!

Martyn Brabbins, conductor plus pianist.

“It’s an enormous span of music that you simply actually must tempo. A conductor’s job when she or he has a extremely nice orchestra, like I do right here, is to set issues in movement then off it goes, you then reset, and off it goes once more. It is advisable know when to inject the vitality, the tempo and the color. It’s almost 4 hours of music and also you’ve obtained to get it simply on observe all the time in any other case it derails.If you happen to get one bit unsuitable the subsequent received’t join.”

Tech rehearsals for a new production of Wagner’s The Valkyrie

“We’ve obtained a tremendous wealth of expertise inside such a comparatively small expertise pool right here in Britain. It’s great to have an all-British forged, all, other than Rachel (Brünnhilde) and Brindley Sherratt (Sieglinde’s husband, Hunding) making function debuts. Vocally, it’s large for thus many of them. However it’s been a whole pleasure.”

Backstage, sweeping up black snow, Bradley says: “I’m not used to opera – I labored for a few years in the West Finish on reveals together with Les Mis. It’s very completely different right here, rather a lot faster, the reveals change continually and you progress from one factor to a different. I obtained a bit blase about listening to folks sing rather well, however right here, standing in the wings, listening, it’s like WOW! It’s so good. The music is superior!”

Tech rehearsals for a new production of Wagner’s The Valkyrie

‘Daring, radical and at all times related’

”When this was first scheduled, says the bass Brindley Sherratt, “I wasn’t capable of be in it as a result of I used to be dedicated elsewhere. In the darkest days of the second lockdown I had Covid fairly badly, so did my spouse and my daughter, and my work for the relaxation of the 12 months had all simply disappeared. Then my agent known as and mentioned: “They’re now placing on Walküre in the autumn and this time you’re capable of be in it.’ It was a lightweight at the finish of the tunnel. Simply improbable, and so daring to announce that you simply’re doing the whole Ring Cycle when all people else was identical to, ‘We’re all taking place the pan.’”

Matthew Rose (Wotan, right), Nicky Spence (Siegmund, middle) and Brindley Sherratt (Hunding).

“Wagner was a theatrical radical. I believe he’s the most influential trendy artist. Greater than Beckett, greater than Pirandello,” says Jones. “The Ring is like nice Greek drama. Since it was first carried out in 1876, there has by no means been a interval when it wasn’t germane to the modern world.”

“I’ve performed a Ring Cycle earlier than, and in case you’re concerned with one thing so enormous and so technically troublesome there’s at all times an actual sense of collegiality, however what’s so particular about this explicit venture is that we’re all – director, conductor, forged, crew – from inside these shores. We’re all knackered however we’re all clubbing collectively. Come and see us. It’s going to be epic!” Sherratt provides.

Emma Bell (Sieglinde) and horse.
Matthew Rose (Wotan) and Rachel Nicholls (Brünnhilde).

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