This brilliant show is described by the creative team at Unexpected Opera as “Wagner’s Ring Cycle conditioned with comedy and shrunk to two hours”. That hardly does justice to the wonderful mixture of good jokes and great singing that drive this bizarre creation. The staff of Patisserie Valkyrie – on the premises of which three big washer/dryers have just been installed – don’t ask! – find themselves saddled with the task of showing us the wilder shores of Wagner’s version of the Norse myths. They explain the plot of the Ring Cycle, some of which it has to be admitted is less than 100% coherent, and they sing some of the best bits. The tensions between the patisserie staff mirror some of the tensions between Wagner’s characters and some of the best jokes flow from the ‘real life’ and ‘operatic’ co-incidences.
The set is the interior of the café, with its cheap chairs and tables, behind which loom Bish, Bash, and Bosh, the washer/dryers. The simple set and its props become the River Rhine, Valhalla, the lair of the dragon and the magic rock. The Rhine-maidens wear marigold gloves. The broken sword is re-forged in Bish. The use of the café table as the rock on which Brunhilda is imprisoned is a particularly sweet touch. There are some moments when the comedy threatens to get a bit out of hand – the giants as oven gloves on broomsticks is a step too far – and the wood bird scene is pointed but teeters on the brink of causing the offence it aims to condemn.
The performances of the five actor/singers – and of Kelvin Lim who plays piano throughout – are simply superb. Simon Thorpe as Ronnie/Wotan is a natural comic, a fine singer – and the best Sean Connery impersonator I have heard for long time. Mari Wyn Williams as Hilda/ Brunhilda carries the load of much of the narration with charm and a lovely lyrical north Welsh accent, and she sings with real Wagnerian flair. Anna Gregory and Edward Hughes mirror the Siegmund/Sieglinde affair in their ‘Pat Valk’ characters and find a way to make it all rather touching. The excellent Harriet Williams as Edith, Ronnie’s put-upon wife also sings Fricka, Wotan’s wife, and has just as much to complain about.
I realised what a fine achievement this show is when I found myself in tears during the great duet from the end of Valkyrie as Wotan bids farewell to his beloved daughter, Brunhilda. Thorpe and Williams sing this sublime duet with real power and passion. To be able to move from the broad comedy of Patisserie Valkyrie to such an effective version of one of the finest moments in opera – despite all the limitations of space and resources – is a real treat for the audience. Only the most humourless of Wagnerians could fail to enjoy this show.