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<em>Siegfried</em>, Opera North
05 Jul 2016

Siegfried, Opera North

This, alas, was where I had to sign off. A weekend conference on Parsifal (including, on the Saturday, a showing of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Parsifal film) mean that I missed Götterdämmerung, skipping straight to the sequel.

Siegfried, Opera North

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Béla Perencz as Wanderer and Ceri Williams as Erda

Photo credit: Clive Barda.


Perhaps I shall find out some day how it all turned out. Very well, I should expect, at least performatively. For, if I did not find that this Siegfried quite attained the heights of the Walküre two nights previously, Opera North’s remained an achievement that put a good number of larger companies to shame.

It helped, of course (to put it mildly!) to have Richard Farnes continue his excellent work, not in the pit, but at the podium. As with the Walküre, I found some of the first act a little on the subdued side, the music only really igniting during the final scene, and only truly blazing with the extraordinary Second Act Prelude, in which the Orchestra of Opera North once again showed that it had nothing to fear from the most exalted of comparisons. Perhaps that is Farnes’s way, wanting to leave something in reserve. However, in this particular drama, especially when seen and heard without a full staging, something more immediately arresting would not have been a bad thing. I also felt that the intensity of the third act might have been more consistently maintained. It was certainly not a case of failing to understand, or indeed to communicate, its contours. However, between the Prelude to the Third Act - the Prelude to the Ring’s very peripeteia - and a shiver-inducing final duet, there was, at least for my taste, perhaps a little too much placidity. That said, Farnes’s conducting and the orchestral playing will, I am sure, long be spoken of warmly, both in London and in the earlier venues of the Opera North tour.

The Ring - Siegfried 05.pngRichard Roberts as Mime. Photo Credit: Clive Barda.

Béla Perencz’s Wanderer sounded suitably resigned, without that implying any lack of attention to the particularities of words and music. If I have heard more imposing portrayals, there was a humanity here that most would have warmed to - and I did. Jo Pohlheim’s Alberich was a definite strength of the Rheingold three nights earlier, and so again it was here. Less pitch-black than some, this was a dwarf who very much retained character of his own. So too did Richard Roberts’s Mime, especially noteworthy for fine acting within the constraints (or should that be liberation?) of a ‘concert staging’. Mats Almgren proved a properly stentorian Fafner. Lars Cleveman offered laudable staying power in the title role, at least until the earlier stages of the final scene. (It is quite understandable that he should have been tiring then!) However, his voice was decidedly less than ingratiating; such, alas, is the way with almost all Siegfrieds. It was nevertheless a committed performance, and that is worth a good deal. Ceri Williams’s Erda was again somewhat insecure. However, the other two ‘female’ roles were superbly taken, Jeni Bern a veritable breath of fresh air as a lively Woodbird, and Kelly Cae Hogan fully living up to the promise of her Walküre Brünnhilde in a blazing performance at the close. Again, if only I knew how it all turned out …

If only the nuances of verbal meaning had not too often been ironed out in translation. (Sometimes, it was spot on; at other times, overly generalised. Surely Wagner’s poems deserve near-literal translation in such circumstances, for this was not a singing translation. Fafner’s Proudhonian ‘Ich lieg’ und besitz’ loses far too much, indeed almost everything, as ‘What’s mine is mine’. Possession, one might say, is if not nine tenths, then at least half, of the rentier meaning. But such niggles, and ongoing concern-cum-irritation over increasingly screensaverish projections, remained just that, niggles, in the face of Opera North’s magnificent achievement. More Wagner soon, please!

Mark Berry

Richard Wagner, Siegfried

Siegfried: Lars Cleveman; Mime: Richard Roberts; The Wanderer: Béla Perencz; Alberich: Jo Pohlheim; Fafner: Mats Almgren; Erda: Ceri Williams; Brünnhilde: Kelly Cae Hogan; The Woodbird: Jeni Bern. Concert Staging, Design Concept, Lighting, Projection: Peter Mumford; Associate Director: Joe Austin. Orchestra of Opera North/Richard Farnes. Royal Festival Hall, London, Friday 1 July, 2016.

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