Opera review: Siegfried in concert

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of attending Die Walküre (second part of Wagner The Ring of the Nibelung) by the Melbourne Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. I compared this production to a “glittering storm”.

It would be unfair to compare this fully staged performance to this most recent offering from Siegfried in concert, as this one lacks sets, costumes, and lighting effects. But we can still concentrate on the musical prowess of the singers and the orchestra, the virtuoso work of the conductor Anthony Negus and the dramaturgy of the director Suzanne Chaundy to bring Siegfried on stage in concert.

There are merits in reducing the production to its purely musical parts. This concert was able to boast of the drawing power of highly skilled musicians, a Wagnerian conductor and the near-perfect acoustics of the Elizabeth Murdoch Hall.

Subtitles were highly visible above the stage on a large screen, in the original (German) and English, helping the audience follow the drama and plot. Although this is a concert piece, Chaundy has done a great job of bringing the characters to life, to almost satirical proportions.

Whether Wagner liked it or not, some audience members (myself included) could barely stifle a laugh at the performance of Robert MacFarlane’s pantomime villain as the dwarf, Mime. Act II was truly a dramatic climax as we suspended our disbelief as Mime absentmindedly divulged his plot to Siegfried, before they brawled – though they didn’t quite get it do since there was no place on stage for it – to steal the dragon-guarded treasure.

There was a moment when the “dragon” Fafner, played out of costume by Steven Gallop, laughed maniacally from a side door of the stage, amid the soaring crescendo of the orchestra. It sounded a lot like a very lyrical game of charades. Galop was magnificent in stature and in the bearing of a miserly dragon. His voice was as imposing as his physique. I wish he had made a longer appearance.

Unlike these acting luminaries, Siegfried seemed made of wood. Although wonderfully sung by Bradley Daley, Gallop and Macfarlane were dramatic acts that were hard to match. Obviously, the comedic nature of these characters was more fun to play, and the physical limitations of not having space to physically interact made some dramas feel stable by comparison.

That said, the lines “I’m glad to hear you hate me, but why waste my life on you too”, were delivered with superbly smug bathos by Daley, before the (still comical due to lack of space physics to stage it) Mime stabbing.

In Act III, Siegfried was led by the Bird of the Woods, Rebecca Rashleigh, in shimmering emerald with crystalline inflections. Siegfried’s fanfare leitmotif was expertly played by Evgeny Chebkykin on the French horn. The scene was set for him to find Brunnhilde in the woods and romantically wake her from her slumber. Lee Abrahmsen played it, singing aureous notes with all the battered tones of first love, his golden hair shining triumphantly in the lights as this match in bucolic paradise played out.

The harps were sublimely played in this part, by Samantha Ramirez and Laura Tanata.

There were a few awkward details and lyrics (as always with Wagner) that don’t escape us, like the fact that Brunnhilde is Siegfried’s aunt, and the macho cloak and dagger as the female characters died of childbirth or into an enchanted sleep, but a strength of Chaundy’s direction is bringing out the feminine power of characters like Brunnhilde and the Bird of the Woods. Erda, played by mezzo soprano Deborah Humble, was equally stunning and strong.

Read: Concert report: Beethoven, Les Symphonies Concert 3

The play was well dramatized and staged within concert parameters and musically epic, thanks to these exceptionally talented musicians. It certainly whetted the appetite for the big-budget event; all staged ring cycle in Bendigo next year.

Siegfried in concertby Melbourne Opera
Melbourne Recital Center
Conductor: Anthony Negus
With: Warwick Fyfe, Lee Abrahmsen, Simon Meadows, Deborah Humble, Steven Gallop, Brad Daley, Robert Macfarlane

Siegfried in concert was played on September 25, 2022.

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