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Siegfried

Royal Opera House

THEphrase "It's a marathon, not a sprint" might well have been coined for Wagner's Ring Cycle. Three down, one to go. Phew, it's hard work, and a long stretch. Even some of the intervals last longer than I Pagliacci and Bluebeard's Castle.

Keith Warner's production plods along at its own pace, while Stefanos Lazaridis' set designs are his sparsest yet, although you get the feeling a trick was missed with the last act where Brünnhilde is awoken from her sleep on a rock surrounded by fire, or not as the case is because she just appears from behind a wall.

Siegfried is the third part of the cycle and follows the son of Wotan's children Siegmund and Sieglinde "yes, let's not get into that" in his quest to find the ring of Nibelung, save the world and, at the same time, try to get to grips with his parentage.

The first act plays out Siegfried's relationship with his erstwhile guardian Mime (Gerhard Siegel), the swordmaker, who he implores to restore his father's all-powerful sword. In the end Siegfried has to do it himself as Mime plots to kill him and steal the ring, which holds the power and secrets of the world.

Siegfried (John Treleaven) takes his father's sword to kill the dragon Fafner (Phillip Ens), who guards the ring in his cave, and then he kills Mime as predicted by Wotan, or the Wanderer as he is known in this instalment, after the Woodbird (Sarah Fox) tells him of the swordmaker's intentions.

Dysfunctional lot

Pretty dysfunctional mob this lot, although maybe not as dysfunctional as the minds that made up the scene where Siegfried meets the Woodbird on a stuffed Reindeer that is pushed around by stage hands as if the production department had run out of money. Ens as Fafner spends the second act with just his coned head sticking out of the ground reminiscent of David Bowie's last stand in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence.

Wotan/Wanderer is now played by John Tomlinson, who hopefully will survive this and the last episode, Götterdammerung, in better health than Bryn Terfal, who lost his voice and had to mime in Das Rheingold (a very bizarre experience for those of us who were there to see it) and then went ill during Die Walküre, forcing the BBC to change its plans to broadcast the opera.

Anyway Wotan/Wanderer goes around giving out advice like some Nordic know-it-all, hoping that Siegfried and Brünnhilde (Lisa Gasteen) will save the world. Siegfried doesn't trust him, they fight and Siegfried smashes the wise one's spear and, in the process, Wotan loses his powers.

Anyway Siegfried and Brünnhilde fall in love, played with great passion, and don't really care about saving the world, indeed the feisty lass is quite happy for the destruction of Valhalla. Obviously too much sleep is not good for some people.

Tomlinson is magnificent, even though he does not have the presence of the Welsh Warbler. Treleaven grows into Siegfried after a hesitant start, but plays most of the first act as second fiddle to Siegel's Mime, although what the crashed aircraft was doing in the scene has yet to be explained, except as a prop for the Wanderer to make his appearance. Fortunately it didn't contain the cast of Lost, or maybe it did, in which case great because there appeared to be no survivors.

It takes a long time until we hear a woman's voice of some note. Jane Henschel provides a welcome cameo as Erds, the earth goddess sitting atop what appears to be a tennis umpire's seat. Gasteen arrives about 30 minutes from the end to join Treleaven in this opera's one elongated love duet. Her appearance, though, sets the scene for the final chapter, which arrives at Covent Garden in April.

Antonio Pappano has gown with stature throughout the cycle. His conducting is both vibrant and sensitive, and the House orchestra is at the top of its game in what must be one of the most difficult scores to perform. The music though is good enough to listen to without the singing and I must say there were moments when I did just that.

Review by Peter Wilson


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