Manchester Wins!

While the weekend visit to Manchester, May 9 and 10, was an excuse to see family and friends, it was also a time to, by accident, witness a new level of achievement for their Hallé Orchestra, which happens to be the oldest in England. Wagner’s Götterdämmerung was done over two nights and the orchestra, working on this “project” since January, delivered a masterful reading under their music director, Sir Mark Elder (“Sir” since 2008).
Opera in Manchester has always been a rough ride. As John Allison, editor of Opera Magazine pointed out, it is the largest metropolitan area in Europe without its own resident opera company. The latest proposal – for the Royal Opera to visit regularly – is on life-support and about to be unplugged. The hardscrabble Northern industrial town, world renowned for soccer, is less well known for the dainty lyric arts. Odd, since one of the early conductors of the orchestra (1899-1911) was the great Hans Richter, who conducted Seigfried’s Funeral March with the Hallé in 1877, only a year after the debut.
This Götterdämmerung was world class by any standard. The orchestra is skilled and involved and every section, particularly the brass, distinguished itself during the undertaking. Edler has a good feeling for the Wagnerian pallet and was alternately tender and powerful but never trapped into bombast (a frequent problem with conductors.)
He was working with singers that any house would envy; outstanding was Katarina Dalayman as Brünnhilde. At the top of today’s Wagnerian sopranos, she delivered the final scene with a power, elegance and grandeur which left the audience numb and cheering. Her fellow Swede, Lars Cleveman, replaced Ben Heppner as Siegried only weeks before the concert, and, while not with the same vocal size, was totally convincing and also an audience favorite. Special mention is deserved by the really scary and strong Hagen of Korean bass Attila Jun. Another plus was a fine Alberich from Andrew Shore and good support from Peter Colman-Wright as Gunther and Nancy Gustafson as Gutrune. There was no weak link with the supporting cast. Another exciting contribution was the choral forces assembled; four choirs were listed in the program, numbering well over 100, and raised mighty sounds during the choral scenes. The modern and acoustically pleasing Bridgewater Hall was the scene of this triumph and has been the home of the Halle since 1996. It is not surprising that, only a few days after the applause finally died down, the board announced the extension of Sir Mark’s tenure until 2015.
How Manchester United does in the championship game tomorrow in Rome is another story.

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