With a homegrown staging of Wagner's Ring cycle highly unlikely any time soon, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's Wagner Gala provided some compensation for those bitten by the Bayreuth bug.
In 2012, the NZSO thrilled us with Die Walkure in concert and, three years on, music director Pietari Inkinen again presided over an orchestra of appropriately Wagnerian proportions.
Pairing the final acts of Siegfried and Gotterdammerung worked well; a few characters slipped out along the way to Valhalla, but the focus was on the relationship between Siegfried (Simon O'Neill) and Brunnhilde (Christine Goerke).
Orchestral bonuses included the adrenalin-charged ride of the Act III Prelude to Siegfried and Wagner's mesmerising evocation of Dawn from early in Gotterdammerung and both dazzled.
The NZSO was as much the star as its high-powered soloists, offering Panavision splendour in moments of musical spectacle, and impressing with finessed woodwind playing and impeccable violin unisons.
We experienced some of the greatest love scenes in the operatic repertoire, delivered with utmost intensity and passion by O'Neill and Goerke. In their meeting you can feel a rush of almost erotic excitement with Goerke's unforgettable mix of fear and anticipation on first sighting her lover.
From her initial salute to the sun in a blaze and shimmer of C major, it was clear she is a great Brunnhilde of our times. O'Neill was the perfect partner and watching the emotional interplay between the two was as compulsive as enjoying a good movie, with the orchestra offering the classiest soundtrack imaginable.
O'Neill is first to die, and did so with a moving "Brunnhilde, Heilige Braut", leaving Goerke to carry the final 20 minutes with all the artistry and stamina that Wagner demands.
The composer's rather optimistic directions ask that the stage be filled with flames at the climax of Gotterdammerung, and this performance created the illusion this was carried out to the last flicker.
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Auckland Town Hall