Prom 18: Siegfried

Wagner: Siegfried

Lance Ryan tenor, Proms debut artist (Siegfried)
Nina Stemme soprano (Brünnhilde)
Terje Stensvold baritone (Wanderer)
Peter Bronder tenor (Mime)
Johannes Martin Kränzle baritone (Alberich)
Eric Halfvarson bass (Fafner)
Rinnat Moriah soprano, Proms debut artist (Woodbird)
Anna Larsson mezzo-soprano (Erda)
Staatskapelle Berlin
Daniel Barenboim conductor

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Apologies it's taken me some time to come to a point where I can write something coherent(ish) about this Prom. I found the whole process of attending a Ring cycle in a week extraordinary: everything gathers pace, intensity, ardour and drama. Nothing in Rheingold prepares you for Walküre nor Walküre for Siegfried.  The curve steepens as we approach the final opera so it gets harder to disengle it all.

There was much to enjoy for me in Siegfried as my ear had become attuned to Wagner's writing and in live performance my appreciation was developing faster too. I started to notice random links backward - there are figures from these operas which echo back to Beethoven's Ninth and forward to figures borrowed by Vaughan Williams for his Sea Symphony.

After the splendour of ONeills Siegmund,  Kampe's Sieglinde,  Stimme's Brunnhilde and Terfel's Wotan and much else besides in Die Walküre, the bar was set high for Siegfried a few days later.  It is an opera of elaborate conversations - all working at different levels as we establish the stories many tendrils and moods.  Wotan's dejection, Mime's greed, Siegfried's destiny - all become very evident in both music and words - a fantasy world of dwarves and giants gives way to an inner domestic drama of very familiar human emotions.  And in such an atmosphere, a dragon, a telltale bird and broken spear take on symbolic meanings in anticipation of Freud at the same time the traditional tale of heroism is soon subverted into something much more questioning, personal and insuperable.

In terms of voices Ryan was suitably compelling throughout, Stimme enchanting and imperious in tone dominating Act 3, the increasingly marginalised Wotan from Stensvold retained some dignity notwithstanding his impotence.  Kränzle, Larson and Halfvarson brought out there characters beyond the page and Bronder's Mime retained a grip beyond the pantomine act.  There was even humour as Ryan attempted to respond to the Woodbird.  Rinnat Moriah stood at the top of the stalls steps and her voice caught the Woodbird's music beautifully.  It's worth noting that stage director, Justin Way's stage direction was just brilliant in the limited context - using stage lighting, stairs up to and down to the stage, and the organ desk, high and central to the stage, with simple but telling effects. The singing - from what I could tell as an absolute beginner - was very good.  A feeling of ensemble drove this piece along despite the intimate nature of it's conversations: the further it progressed the sense this was part of something bigger - as a story, as music and as a performance of note - grew stronger.

Barenboim was a magnificent guide to the ebb and flow of the narrative and his orchestra were subtly responsive.  The pace was inexorable and most of his attention was - as Terfel said in a radio interview - all about the dynamics.  He had a fine orchestra alert to his every gesture and moreover the players had adapted to the hall and the demands it brings.  None more so than Thomas Keller on tuba, whose Act 1 contribution was as fine as any player so far.  A subtle doyen of his instrument - and as I discovered after the performance as softly spoken as his instrument is ebullient - he dominated the bass sound which changed the whole colour of the piece not just the encounters with the dragon Fafner in his cave.  It is no wonder a European tweeter suggested he was the star player in this Ring.

The end of this Friday night found me thoroughly absorbed by both drama and music, acting (and there was plenty), audience and the act of witness.  By that stage those around me  - vastly more experienced in Wagner than me - were making noises about the excellence of this enterprise - at our Proms, in our Hall and made possible by a great, visionary, generous conductor and his orchestra and our far-sighted BBC.  Götterdammerung promised to be epic - in every sense.

You can read what I thought about Die Walküre here  and Das Rheingold here - Götterdammerung to follow.


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