sun 16/12/2018

Siegfried, Opera North, Southbank Centre | reviews, news & interviews

Siegfried, Opera North, Southbank Centre

Siegfried, Opera North, Southbank Centre

A star soprano shines in the Ring’s conversation piece

Searching for the hero inside himself: Lars Cleveman as SiegfriedAll images by Clive Barda

For some of us, Siegfried is a perfect opera. Like L.627 it stubbornly observes the Aristotelian rules of space and time to cut a generous slice of life. There are almost no set-pieces to break the flow of one-on-one conversations, accusations, confessions, arguments. These encounters are inevitably stifled by a concert staging, where singers address themselves to us, never to each other. Peter Mumford’s video projections set the scene with trees and glowing embers like a piece of slow TV on YouTube or BBC4.

Wisdom also holds that Siegfried is the Scherzo of the Ring. Maybe not only for its position as the third part of the drama, in symphonic terms, but for its libretto, which banters with wit and irony, wordplay and sudden reversals. The surtitled translation did functional justice to Wagner’s text of Sophoclean nuance. Some of the singers swallowed their words, which didn’t help, but they were heard in solemn, all-too-reverent silence. This may be news to some, but Wagner wrote a few good jokes, most of them in Die Meistersinger and Siegfried, and none of them came over tonight.

Siegfried, Opera NorthOn the podium, Richard Farnes was a model of sobriety and clarity, always finding a bel canto line, in an acoustic never meant for this music. From the stalls we heard much of the Opera North strings, the brass were only let off the leash at climactic moments, the winds took their chances at stylishly controlled solo moments. Having let the Ring alone for 12 years to write Tristan and Die Meistersinger, Wagner built a bonfire of vanities in the Prelude to Act 3, piling on every major motif from the Ring so far. Farnes carefully piled up each log but took too long to light the touchpaper.

On this showing, he would make a superb conductor of Liszt and Beethoven. Timbres were light and bright, but violas, tuba and timpani stood out in this most inner-part of operas. Leading to Brünnhilde’s awakening, the first violins took their treacherously exposed solo with exquisite, doubtless exhaustively rehearsed assurance.

In the title role, Lars Cleveman warmed up after a dry first scene. A likely lad who needs a stronger lower register, said Stephen Walsh of his Bayreuth Tannhäuser, and that about sums it up. A size too small for the role, he was at least a size larger than Richard Roberts’ all-too-sympathetic Mime. Only with the Act 2 confrontation between the Wanderer (Béla Perencz) and Alberich (Jo Pohlheim pictured above right) did we hear singing of Wagnerian scale. Mats Almgren brought a properly cavernous bass but also real pathos to the dying Fafner. Within the staging’s literal frame of reference, Jeni Bern made a sweet and pertly sung Woodbird. Ceri Williams found ample time and genuine contralto timbre to sing a hieratically dignified Erda, while hardly evoking the confused earth-mother brought back against her will to a life out of balance.

Only with the appearance of Kelly Cae Hogan’s Brünnhilde was the prosaic context conclusively banished. In the score’s weakest, most extended stretch, she sustained a glorious flood of old-fashioned soprano tone while bringing her character back to joyous, then richly ambivalent and finally exultant life. Hogan’s soprano is more mature, slightly wider, no less thrilling than Rachel Nicholls at Longborough: I’d listen to her again in anything.  

Appeals to contemporary relevance can be tiresome, but Simon Rees’s translation hit the spot in the forging scene. "Experts won’t help you, that’s clear," said Mime to Siegfried. "Only his folly helps the fool." The sun set in baleful orange over the House of Commons. Götterdämmerung on Sunday.

  • The final instalment of Opera North's Ring at the Southbank Centre is free for spectators of the Clore Ballroom live screening. Full programme of events here
  • Read more opera reviews on theartsdesk
Farnes carefully piled up each log but took too long to light the touchpaper

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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