Siegfried review – roaring jubilation and radiant beauty from Elder and the Hallé

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
Mark Elder is a superb Wagnerian, drawing a tremendous performance from the Hallé and vivid power from soloists in this semi-staging of the Ring-cycle opera

Mark Elder and the Hallé opened their exploration of Wagner’s Ring with Götterdämmerung in 2009, adding Die Walküre and Das Rheingold in 2011 and 2016 respectively, before completing their cycle with this often momentous performance of Siegfried, semi-staged by Gerard Jones and spread over two nights.

Siegfried is traditionally dubbed the scherzo of the Ring, as if we are to think of it as something lightweight between two grander, darker statements. The description is wide of the mark, though, and in many respects this is the most difficult opera of the four to accomplish successfully. The tone, embracing nightmare as well as humour, is ambivalent. The dramaturgy, with its colloquies and monologues, has something of the austerity of classical tragedy, and stretches of the work can seem uneventful if not carefully handled. Then there is the problem of the title role, the most strenuous and taxing in Wagner’s output: great interpreters have, regrettably, been few and far between.

A great interpreter … Mark Elder.
A great interpreter … Mark Elder. Photograph: Mark Allan

Elder is a superb Wagnerian, acutely conscious of the complex relationship between tempo and pace, and immaculate in his judgment both of the span of each act and the ebb and flow of detail within it. Thrilling climaxes alternated with moments of astonishing beauty and quiet, almost exquisite terror. The roaring jubilation of the forging scene overwhelmed with its excitement. The Forest Murmurs have rarely sounded so ravishing. Mime’s paranoid fears of Fafner opened up expressionistic vistas of hallucinatory intensity, and there were intimations of great tenderness in the love duet, which in lesser hands can teeter on bombast. Marvellously responsive, the Hallé played with deep fervour and a burnished warmth of sound.

The title role was sung by Simon O’Neill, an established Siegmund and Parsifal: Siegfried is new to his repertory. He used a score, while the other performers sang from memory, which meant that he wasn’t as fully integrated into Jones’s simple yet effective semi-staging as he might have been. His voice is fractionally too small for the role, his tone metallic and cutting rather than immense, but he brought a clean sense of line to music that these days is too frequently yelled or barked. His singing was under-characterised, but there were flashes of insight in the gratuitous glee with which he attacked Gerhard Siegel’s Mime and the wonder with which he gazed on Rachel Nicholls’ sleeping Brünnhilde.

There was some splendid singing elsewhere, however. Siegel, a former Siegfried himself, made the most wonderful Mime, by turns sympathetic and horribly malign, while Martin Winkler, exuding sinister charisma, was an equally outstanding Alberich, among the finest of recent years. His scene with Iain Paterson’s sorrowful, knowingly ironic Wotan was a real highlight, as was Paterson’s anguished later colloquy with Anna Larsson’s tragic Erda. Nicholls, a fine vocal actor, sounded radiant in her long duet with O’Neill. Ultimately though, the performance belonged to Elder and the Hallé, whose achievement was simply tremendous.

• At the Edinburgh international festival on 8 August. Box office: 0131-473 2000.

Contributor

Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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