Opera Reviews
22 April 2021
Untitled Document

The Hallé comes to the fore in a glorious Siegfried

by Catriona Graham
Wagner: Siegfried
Edinburgh International Festival
8 August 2018

There was a deathly hush in the Usher Hall as Mark Elder raised his baton. Could Siegfried possibly live up to the first two parts of the Edinburgh International Festival Ring in concert?

Gerhard Siegel’s Mime was full of twitches and tics – the hammering in his head, his tremors of fear, his sudden ideas which lit up his face – as well as a forceful voice and percussive consonants. When Siegfried appeared in T-shirt and flip-flops, full of rank ingratitude for Mime’s care in his upbringing, Siegel was sly and ingratiating, in fact, he never stopped acting for a moment.

Although Simon O’Neill has a lovely ringing tone and all Siegfried’s brashness and arrogance of fearless youth, he lost out to the orchestra in full flood of sound. In his hammer song, although there was no hammer in his hand, his hands kept time with the percussionist.

Be-sandaled Iain Paterson was a very relaxed Wanderer, playing with Mime and Siegfried in turn in the question-and-answer tests. His sound was nicely rounded and he only let his sangfroid slip in conversation – more of an entreaty – with Erda, when his carefully concealed concerns were revealed. He hid his identity behind dark glasses and wielded his staff cut from the World Ash Tree – though it looked more like hazel than an ash stick.

The opera is full of disgruntled characters, and Alberich is another. Samuel Youn was impressive, a mobile, expressive face and percussive consonants, his robust bass adding depth to his characterisation. The contrast between the Wanderer’s calm reasonableness and Alberich’s righteous indignation was well made.

O’Neill was more in his stride in the natural world of Act 2, an exuberant young man off into the world, setting up a nice contrast to the dragon/giant Fafner, sung mainly off-stage by Clive Bayley in a deep, rich voice.   

After so many men – dwarves included – shouting at each other for so long, it was quite a relief when Siegfried licked Fafner’s blood from his finger and was able to understand birdsong - a female voice was heard at last. Standing in at short notice, Danae Kontora was a delightful Woodbird, her supple voice sounding just like the instrumental birdsong we had heard a few bars previously.

When The Wanderer summoned Erda from her sleep, Anna Larsson may have looked laid-back and barely awake, but the voice was all there in luscious languor.

By the time Siegfried was fighting through the fire to Brünnhilde, Christine Goerke was sitting onstage, eyes shut, ready to be wakened.  When, at last, she sang of her love, and it appeared the pair of them were at cross-purposes, there was diffidence, there was shyness and nervousness. There was also the impassioned coming-together.

The Hallé strings were tremulous and sweet, the brass blared, the woodwind chirruped and twittered – and got Siegfried’s attempt at imitation gloriously wrong! It was a great pleasure to see the music being put together onstage, instead of hidden away in the pit.

Finally, in these #MeToo days, one hopes that, before the performance began, O’Neill asked very nicely Goerke’s permission for that full-on snog at the end.

Text © Catriona Graham
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