The core of Die Walküre – really, the core of the whole Ring – is discourse and debate, as gods and men square up to each other in pairs to determine the events that will shape the world. And the debate doesn’t get any more fascinating or hard edged than Act 2 Scene 1, when Fricka, with resolute single-mindedness, slowly manoeuvres Wotan into a corner where he can do nothing but submit to her will.

Johan Reuter (Wotan), Catherine Foster (Brünnhilde) © Szilvia Csibi, Müpa Budapest
Johan Reuter (Wotan), Catherine Foster (Brünnhilde)
© Szilvia Csibi, Müpa Budapest

We often see Fricka as nothing more than the tedious harridan that Brünnhilde describes as the act opens, but the crystalline acoustic in Müpa Budapest permits a different interpretation. Atala Schöck’s voice was sweetness itself: butter wouldn’t have melted in her mouth as she quietly wheedled Johan Reuter’s Wotan to the point where he has made such disastrously daft arguments that Shöck can safely turn nasty, which she did sharply with incisive precision. Reuter, for his part, bent his voice this way and that: suave urbanity, fatherly gravitas, imperious command. None of it, of course, works, and Reuter’s closing depiction of grim despair hit us hard. At the end of Act 3, Reuter gave us waves of warmth and regret in Wotan’s Farewell.

Atala Schöck (Fricka), Johan Reuter (Wotan) © Szilvia Csibi, Müpa Budapest
Atala Schöck (Fricka), Johan Reuter (Wotan)
© Szilvia Csibi, Müpa Budapest

Back down in the mortal world, the discourse between Camilla Nylund’s Sieglinde and Stuart Skelton’s Siegmund – discourse of a completely different kind – was also at its strongest in Act 2: Nylund was most cogent in her guise as tragic heroine. We know the basic beauty of Skelton’s voice and how well he can sing Siegmund in any house, but this is the first time he has sung the role at Müpa and the knowledge that he could be intelligible at any point in his dynamic range can only have helped his expressivity. Skelton's cries of Wälse were as stunning as any I’ve ever heard: two long notes that bloom and morph through their length. In Siegmund’s defining moment, when he declares to Brünnhilde that he will take his chances in Hell rather than following her to Valhalla and thereby lose Sieglinde, Skelton reached the extremes of how to express tenderness through a singing voice.

Stuart Skelton (Siegmund), Camilla Nylund (Sieglinde) © Szilvia Csibi, Müpa Budapest
Stuart Skelton (Siegmund), Camilla Nylund (Sieglinde)
© Szilvia Csibi, Müpa Budapest

Catherine Foster is an impressive Brünnhilde in terms of pure vocal quality. She spanned the ranges of dynamics and pitch without faltering; her phrasing was well balanced and her diction clear. There’s space for greater transformation in Brünnhilde’s character as events progress than Foster achieved, but it’s still a glorious voice to listen to. Albert Pesendorfer was a powerful Hunding, a worthy opponent for the heroic Siegmund.

This year’s refresh of Hartmut Schörghofer’s concert staging hasn’t damaged its best aspects, but nor has it resolved some of the annoying inconsistencies. The best is the treatment of Hunding’s dogs: these have now turned into a pack of eight dancers, each carrying a dog’s head, who move quite brilliantly in turning Hunding’s home into a hostile environment for Siegmund and Sieglinde. The same dancers become the Valkyries’ horses in their Ride, creating powerful visual mayhem. But the treatment of the sword is unconvincing (there is a real sword, but it’s strangely absent at the point when Siegmund is supposed to be removing it from the tree) and the presence of two dancers ostentatiously representing Wotan’s ravens remains unexplained (the ravens play a part in the last two operas, but not this one). The video transformation of Walhalla’s mountain range into a landscape of war-torn 21st century buildings, which happens at the point that Wotan grants Fricka the fatal oath (“Nimm’ den Eid”), could be interesting, but nothing is made of it.

Albert Pesendorfer (Hunding) © Szilvia Csibi, Müpa Budapest
Albert Pesendorfer (Hunding)
© Szilvia Csibi, Müpa Budapest

Most problematic of all is the decision to start the Ride of the Valkyries with the voices far away and offstage. The rationale has some merit – the Valkyries are assembling from all points of the compass, high up in the clouds – but the practical effect was to destroy the balance between voices and orchestra in one of the two most intricate pieces of vocal writing in the whole Ring cycle. The integrity of the music didn't recover, even after the Valkyries had safely arrived on stage, and this most famous of Wagnerian showpieces degenerated into muddle.

That was especially disappointing since it was the only flaw in an otherwise superb orchestral performance. The low strings were incisive in the opening chase through the snow, the horn and brass sections gorgeous in the lyrical moments and explosive in combination with timpani for the battle, the woodwinds made telling interjections to enhance the dialogue or heighten the different aspects of love.

For a second day of this cycle, a first class group of singers has gripped us emotionally and gathered us up in the story. Sword-forging and dragons (well, one dragon) await us...


Read the reviews of the other operas in the cycle: Das RheingoldSiegfried, Götterdämmerung.

****1