The Melbourne Ring Cycle 2016 – Siegfried

Stefan Vinke as Siegfried was the outstanding voice and character of the night…a highly gifted actor and singer.
The Melbourne Ring Cycle 2016 – Siegfried

Jud Arthur as Fafner, Graeme Macfarlane as Mime and Stefan Vinke as Siegfried in Opera Australia’s 2016 production of Siegfried. Photograph by Jeff Busby.

If Day One of Wagner’s epic tetralogy was dedicated to Brünnhilde, The Valkyrie, whom Wotan punished for attempting to carry out his secret wish for a hero to restore his power, Day Two is nominally dedicated to this hero, Siegfried, son of Siegmund and Sieglinde.

In the course of the opera we see the progress of this insouciant derring-do as the fearless innocent reforges Nothung the magic sword, slays the dragon Fafner and dispatches treacherous and miserable Mime who brought him up in the hope of gaining the treasure and the ring.  He ignores the riches and is apparently unaware of the curse of the ring.  Impatient to follow his destiny, he sweeps his grandfather away at the crossroads and surges ahead to pass through Loge’s flaming barrier to meet his match and learn fear in the reciprocity of love with Brünnhilde.  As he surrenders his heroism and she surrenders her divinity, they meet as human beings.

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This chain of events was set in train by Wotan, who now behaves almost like the chorus of a Greek drama, as the Wanderer playing riddling games with Mime and Alberich, thus giving an opportunity to rehearse the story so far, and appealing to Erda, his Lilith-like first wife, to avert the inevitable final catastrophe.  She tells him the answer lies with their daughter.  And so it turns out, as we shall see.

 James Johnson as The Wanderer in Opera Australia’s 2016 production of Siegfried.

Robert Cousins’s set designs continue to intrigue: the first act usually is set in half light with bellows, steam and flickering flames as the sword is spectacularly reforged by Siegfried himself with music to support this.  Instead we have a large, white proscenium arch decorated with spotlights furnished with a bar fridge containing a few tinnies and a microwave.  Burlesque with an Aussie accent would appear to be the ideé fixe of this Ring. 

Mime’s character continues to be superbly filled by Graeme Macfarlane though I felt the comedy was overdone. There should be something sinister which here is missing.  Stefan Vinke as Siegfried was the outstanding voice and character of the night.   A highly gifted actor and singer he is an experienced interpreter of the great Wagnerian heroic tenor roles with Siegfried being a signature role.  He not only looks the part but presents as a fully formed character as he embraces boredom, loneliness, impetuousness, naivety, heroism and love.

As Siegfried sets out on his adventures, with Wagner’s shimmering strings at daybreak and a woodbird calling above (superbly portrayed by the graceful and balletic Julie La Goodwin) we might expect an attractive woodland forest scene for act two.  No such luck.  The proscenium is simply rotated so that we now see its unfinished side, changing shape from being concave to convex with a giant hole in its centre as the entrance to the dragon’s lair. Warwick Fyfe continues as a first-rate Alberich though I am unconvinced that the comic elements imposed on his character are at all needed.

Jud Arthur was a fine Fafner as a giant, but is even better as the dragon.  His appearance as a naked man, mortally wounded and covered in blood at the entrance to the lair was truly shocking.  Liane Keegan gave a heartfelt rendering of Erda, as did Wotan (James Johnson) in his last appearance in the Cycle.  If Johnson appeared underpowered in Rheingold and Walküre, he saved his very best to the last, delivering an excellent performance brimming with bitterness, resignation to nihilism and pathos.

 
Lise Lindstrom as Brünnhilde and Stefan Vinke as Siegfried in Opera Australia’s 2016 production of Siegfried.

After this, all that is left is for Siegfried to awaken Brünnhilde from her imposed slumber.  The ever-present proscenium now sports a shimmering, gold-lamé scalloped curtain, no doubt representing the protecting magic fire.  After this there is a black and empty stage but for Brünnhilde’s delivery in a plastic sheathed packing crate, the sheeting as substitute for her shield.  Siegfried is at first uncertain and alarmed at what he has found but soon becomes entranced and determines to make Brünnhilde his own.  Amongst a tumult of emotional tension at first Brünnhilde mourns the loss of her godhead but soon falls for Siegfried’s exultant rapture and realises her ultimate destiny.  Thereafter follows one of the most impassioned duets in the Cycle, wonderfully realised by Lise Lindstrom and Stefan Vinke, finishing the opera with thrilling elation on a unison high C.

The Melbourne Ring Orchestra continues its fine Wagnerian journey under the valiant direction of Pietari Inkinen.

4 stars out of 5

The Melbourne Ring Cycle 2016 – Siegfried
The Melbourne Ring Orchestra

Pietari Inkinen, conductor
Neil Armfield, director
Robert Cousins, set designer
Alice Babidge, costume designer

Cast in order of appearance:
Graeme Macfarlane, Mime
Stefan Vinke, Siegfried
James Johnson, Wotan/The Wanderer
Jud Arthur, Fafner
Warwick Fyfe, Alberich
Julie La Goodwin, Woodbird
Liane Keegan, Erda
Lise Lindstrom, Brünnhilde


State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
21 November – 16 December 2016

 25 November, 2016

 

David Barmby

Monday 28 November, 2016

About the author

David Barmby is former head of artistic planning of Musica Viva Australia, director of music at St James' Anglican Church, King Street, artistic administrator of Bach 2000 (Melbourne Festival), the Australian National Academy of Music and Melbourne Recital Centre.