It must be hard on an opera company that is expecting to crown its new Ring cycle with Götterdämmerung only to have its opera house renovation project run over schedule and be forced to postpone. This is the fate – and in Wagner fate is everything – that befell the Hungarian State Opera, which had hoped to mount the last installment of its Ring cycle directed by Geza M. Toth in the 2018 season, but had no venue in which to perform it.

Szilvia Rálik © Attila Nagy
Szilvia Rálik
© Attila Nagy

Budapest being one of the music capitals of Europe, it has more than one opera house but the second house, the Erkel Theatre, does not have a pit large enough to accommodate the players needed for Götterdämmerung. To avoid disappointing Wagner punters planning to see Brünnhilde start the conflagration that burns up Valhalla, the State Opera offered a "Best of Ring" highlights concert at the Erkel featuring stars of the Hungarian State Opera with the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra under the baton of Balázs Kocsár.

No such 'Wagner-lite' programme is going to satisfy committed Wagnerites, but what this one lacked in props, costumes, stage action and overall drama, was balanced out with a thoughtful selection of highlights that went well beyond the usual orchestral greatest hits. We did indeed get the Gods entering Valhalla from Das Rheingold and the Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre, but there were vocal choices that made this concert with a running time of about two hours a lovely dip in the Rhine without the usual four-to-five hour Wagnerian full immersion.

The three soloists, soprano Szilvia Rálik, tenor István Kovácsházi and baritone Zoltán Kelemen are all regulars at the State Opera. Although they have sung outside Hungary, they are not familiar names on the international Wagner circuit.

István Kovácsházi and Balázs Kocsár © Attila Nagy
István Kovácsházi and Balázs Kocsár
© Attila Nagy

Of the three, Kovácsházi in particular shone, with a lively performance of  the forging scene from Act 1 of Siegfried. He seemed very much at ease on stage and wielded the only prop of the evening – a hollow metal rod which he hit with a solid rod to make the sound of Siegfried forging his sword, Nothung.

If that prop helped put Kovácsházi in a “Siegfried” state of mind, the reverse seemed to weigh on baritone Kelemen's performance of Wotan's Farewell from Act 3 of Walküre. His singing was excellent but, alone on stage without his most beloved daughter to say goodbye to, he seemed at a loss to summon up the passion that sometimes makes this scene one of the most poignant and touching in the entire 16 hours of Wagner's magnum opus. This is not finding fault, it is merely to observe that it may be hard for Wotan to sing his heart out to Brünnhilde when she's not there.

Zoltán Kelemen and Balázs Kocsár © Attila Nagy
Zoltán Kelemen and Balázs Kocsár
© Attila Nagy

Brünnhilde did finally show up, in the person of Szilvia Rálik who sang the Immolation scene from Götterdämmerung. It is very challenging stuff but Rálik was not fully up to it. At times, her sound seemed forced. That said, she seemed to have got her head around what Brünnhilde is feeling and thinking at this point in the opera when, as she sings, "I know everything now, and I am free to do anything". There was no trace of her horse Grane on stage, of course, nor of the Valhalla she is about to burn, but Rálik, supported by some fine playing by the orchestra, made it possible to "see" it all the same.

***11