Siegfried is often referred to as the scherzo of the Ring Cycle which implies a certain lightness of tone, writes Ron Simpson.
It would be foolish to over-stress this, writes Ron Simpson, but the presentation of the characters of Siegfried and Mime has its humorous side. Where Siegfried also differs from the other Ring operas is that it is a narrative about the development of one person and, despite dragons, magic swords and the like, that gives it a certain domesticity. Siegfried is all about Siegfried, finding out about his parents, learning how to behave, facing his first challenges, understanding the devious and dishonest people around him, falling in love.
It’s not that domestic, of course, he doesn’t meet his beloved at the tennis club or the local hop but on a mountain top in an enchanted sleep surrounded by a ring of fire.
Siegfried is constantly described as a boy. He is the wild youth rejoicing in his own strength who makes such a noise storming through the forest that Mime hides from what he assumes is a dragon. It’s here that there is a problem with the third instalment of Opera North’s magnificent semi-staging of the Ring Cycle.
Opera North and the audience have every reason to be grateful to Swedish Heldentenor Lars Cleveman, a highly experienced Wagnerian, who took the part of Siegfried at short notice. In a stalwart performance he finds heroic tones for the forging of the sword Nothung and the Act 3 confrontation with Wotan and, with Katherine Broderick’s soaring Brunnhilde, the right rapturous note for the closing pages of the opera. However, in some of the quieter, more lyrical passages, his voice lacks colour – and looking like the oft-mentioned wild boy is an impossibility for him. Oddly enough, this registers more in a semi-staging, with no makeup, wigs or costume.
One of the delights of this remarkable series of performances over the past four years has been the number of fine Central and European singers who debuted with the company and then returned. Jo Pohlheim’s definitive Alberich and Mats Almgren’s cavernous bass as Fafner have comparatively little to do in Siegfried, but Bela Perencz’s authoritative Wanderer (Wotan) illuminates all three acts.
Richard Roberts as Mime may not have the richest Wagnerian voice on display, but he probably has the most expressive. His acting, too, within the limits of a semi-staging, is outstanding. Like Mats Almgren, Jeni Bern (Woodbird) and Ceri Williams (Erda) prove that there is no such thing as a small part.
So much has already been written of Richard Farnes’ inspired conducting and Peter Mumford’s intelligent and liberating semi-staging and projection design, that it’s just worth noting – along with the superb orchestral playing from all sections – that Siegfried is an opera of horn calls, here splendidly played, with Robert Ashworth immaculate in the Long Call.
Opera North’s first complete Ring Cycle at Leeds Town Hall concludes with Götterdämmerung on Saturday 21 May. The second Leeds cycle begins with Das Rheingold on Tuesday 24 May, before touring to the Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, The Lowry, Salford Quays, the Southbank Centre, London and Sage Gateshead.