• Judith Weir
  • Waltraute's Narration (1996)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)
  • 1.1(ca).1+bcl.11010percpfvc.db
  • Mezzo soprano
  • 10 min

Programme Note

Nothing excites me more in opera than those moments when someone says 'Listen ! I've got something to tell you' - and a story unfolds. The operatic work where this happens the most must be Wagner's Ring cycle. It is well known that Wagner originally planned to present the Ring material in just one opera, called 'Siegfried's Death', which corresponds to the form of the final Ring opera, Götterdämmerung. But as he found how much there really was in his story, the timescale of the piece expanded backwards to fill the four-night sequence of operas we know today. Even so, the Ring, and particularly Götterdämmerung, is still full of scenes where people remind each other of the story so far, and tell each other about bits of the action they may have missed.

I have always felt that the art of operatic narrative reaches a particularly high point in this passage from Götterdämmerung, Act 1. Brünnhilde, alone on a rocky plateau, is visited by her sister Waltraute. Brunnhilde thinks she has come with the news that her father, Wotan, has forgiven her for defying him. 'Listen carefully', says Waltraute, as she proceeds to paint the most sombre and terrifying picture of Wotan and the gods sitting silently in their castle, Valhalla, awaiting the end of the world. This electrifying effect of these few minutes comes from the spellbinding nature of story-telling; there is no action required onstage.

It may seem an act of temerity to rearrange Wagner's masterly orchestral writing for the relatively small ensemble of 10 instruments (7 winds, plus percussion cello and bass). But, although Wagner has vast orchestral forces at his disposal, he rarely uses them all at once; and so often in this opera, it is the oboes, bassoons and clarinets (which are at hand here) who have the greatest prominence.

The arrangement also permits a wider range of vocalists to appear in this scene than might normally be heard in a staged Ring Cycle. It was made for the very versatile new music singer Jane Manning, who first performed it with her group Jane's Minstrels, conducted by Roger Montgomery, at the Spitalfields Festival in London, June 1996.

© Judith Weir