wed 08/12/2021

Siegfried, RINGafa, St Mary’s Putney review - heroes everywhere | reviews, news & interviews

Siegfried, RINGafa, St Mary’s Putney review - heroes everywhere

Siegfried, RINGafa, St Mary’s Putney review - heroes everywhere

Patience rewarded as Brünnhilde steals the show

A debut to remember: Yannick Muriel Noah seizing the moment as Brünnhilde All images © Shireen Nathoo @sndesign

A Samoan-themed Ring cycle? Well, why not? A calculated distance has always separated its audience from the Norse and German epics of its origin.

Wagner composed it once capital and technology had begun their ineluctable overthrow of gods and kings, leaving behind him a blank slate and the potential for endless reinvention. Echoes of Odin and Brynhild resound through one Samoan legend recounting The Tree of Life, so named after the miraculous redemption of a woman sentenced to burn to death in its branches.

Leutogitupaitea was providentially saved by the rain of urine from thousands of flying foxes. An original coup de théâtre for the end of Götterdämmerung, for sure, if potentially a messy one; probably also beyond the resource of GAFA, the London-based Samoan arts collective behind the endeavour, though it would be worth returning on Saturday to find out. At the cycle’s third instalment, the Samoan element was limited to a few props and a native-warrior costume for the hero. Proceedings were launched by the Bayreuth-style blow of a conch. Standing in for a freshly forged Notung, a very realistic machete whistled a few inches above my head at the climax of the First Act. A dance to round off the Second Act, symbolically leading Siegfried towards the woman who will teach him fear, was sabotaged by a jarringly commercial soundtrack and a speaker system on the fritz.Sani Muliaumaseali'i as Siegfried, St Mary's Church, PutneyIn the absence of any deeper engagement with Samoan-Wagnerian parallels, the appeal of this cycle in progress lies in a well prepared set of concert performances, variably sung but consistently engaging. Tonal strength and confidence emanated from the musicians of the Rosenau Sinfonia, playing a reduced-wind version of the score pragmatically fashioned by Alfons Abbas near the start of the last century. Once past cautiously paced preludes to the first two acts, Stephen Anthony Brown directed them with a compelling ebb and flow. With the band squeezed into the church’s west end, the singers on the central stage were rather left to their own devices, resulting in the odd hiatus, though nothing to spoil immersion as serious as the clatter of knives and plates from the next-door café while Siegfried was hauling Fafner’s corpse into the mouth of Neidhöhle.

Alongside expressionistic evocations of fear and anxiety, a mordant humour runs through the writing of Siegfried, text as well as music. John Upperton’s Mime and Ian Wilson Pope’s Wanderer both ably compensated for the lack of subtitles with excellent diction and the guileful delivery of practised Wagnerian hands; their University Challenge exchange of wits supplied the highlight of the First Act. Wilson Pope shrewdly negotiated a path of relaxed cynicism in the first scene of the Second Act, to point up a knowing contrast with the volcanic eruptions of Freddie Tong’s Alberich, who would have left no scenery unchewed had there been any to get his teeth into. When the slender frame of Edwin Kaye stepped forward for Fafner’s off-stage scene, I briefly reflected that the staging could at least have run to Wagner’s prescribed voice-trumpet; he duly proved me wrong with a cavernous, charcoal bass.

The motto of GAFA is “speak.sing.see.sway.strut” and its creative director Sani Muliaumaseali'i (pictured above) invested the title role with a certain authentic swagger. The singing came and went, though if the opera’s last scene hardly suggested a marriage of equals, almost anyone would have been outshone by the Brünnhilde of Yannick Muriel Noah. The undoubted star of the evening, this Madagascan-born, Canadian-educated, Bonn-based soprano has everything the role needs: gravity, stamina, vulnerability, stage magnetism and a gleaming upper register. It’s too bad that she will miss the final instalment but anyone in range of south-west London should feel assured of an authentically Wagnerian experience. Just bring a cushion, and perhaps a libretto.

@peterquantrill

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