Rachel Nicholls’s Brünnhilde, slim and slender-toned, rapturously nuanced in the “Siegfried Idyll” passage of the final duet, continues to rise as a lyrical Wagnerian heroine.
Nicholls was a Handelian then. Now the bright seraphim has turned Valkyrie, her voice still lithe and inviolate above the stave.
With her gift for expressing emotion, and her ripe, strong voice, Nicholls is an ideal Isolde.
Rachel Nicholls sang the role of Isolde at Longborough in 2015 and will be returning to Grange Park Opera at West Horsley Place in 2017 to sing Sieglinde in a new production of Wagner's Die Walkure. She is a relatively slight figure with a bright, focussed and dynamic voice which does not so much ride the orchestra as cut through it. Not since Gwynneth Jones (whom I heard in the role at Covent Garden in 1982) have I heard a performance which brought out Isolde's anger in Act One. Nicholls was every inch the princess, completely commanding and positively quivering with rage at what was happening making her curse quite thrilling. At the end of the opera, Nicholls crowned things with a rapturous account of the Liebestod her voice cutting effortlessly through the orchestra, bringing a sense of vibrancy to the vocal line and an intensity to her performance. Throughout the evening there was an incredible sense of the presence of Nicholls' Isolde, this was an engrossing performance vividly projected.
A worthy replacement for Anja Kampe as Isolde, the British dramatic soprano Rachel Nicholls was utterly fearless; she was a restless, inflamed presence on the stage and her bright, cutting soprano never seemed to tire. Such laser precision in a small theatre left eardrums ringing, and it was almost a relief when the orchestra underpinned her with a wash of rapturous sound. Nicholls, who studied with the great Wagnerian Anne Evans, has already sung Brünnhilde in Ring cycles for Longborough Opera.
Rachel Nicholls was only brought in as a late replacement when Emily Magee withdrew after three weeks of rehearsal. You’d never know it. She and Heldentenor Torsten Kerl complement each other with unforced vocal beauty: they sing the score with a complete absence of excess baggage. There is no squall or big vibrato or weighty ‘monster’ singing, just unflagging power and, where needed, reserves of volume produced with astonishing clarity. Christian Thielemann recently described Wagner’s characters as “a crazy couple hovering on the verge of what is humanly possible”, but these two take it in their stride.
Kerl, despite a tendency to screw his eyes into a snarl during the big moments, brings lyrical sweetness and pathos to his role; Nicholls marks her ascent to the Wagnerian top table with singing of a limpid ecstasy that recalls Margaret Price in the Carlos Kleiber recording (although Isolde was a role Price never dared assume in live performance). Their erotic duet in the second act is ineffably moving – a highlight of the year in music.
Rachel Nicholls, who replaced the announced Emily Magee as Isolde in the course of the rehearsals, made a strong impression on the Parisian audience with singing that was fearless and generous and a youthful, engaging characterization. Act 2 brought renewed energy, fire and sensuality and she concluded with a superb Liebestod.
The women had the advantage of an astonishing female lead to rally around in the form of Rachel Nicholls’s Senta who was by a long distance the best voice on the stage. Miss Nicholls had drama, passion and a kind of manic determination to find her true love that made one sure that this flying Scotswoman was going to be the equal of anything the sea blew in and more. Her singing of the ballad of the Flying Dutchman (Traft ihr das Schiff im Meere an) was riveting. Indeed it was worth seeing the whole show for. There was a crazed intensity about her voice which was perfect for the piece.