Opera North’s Ring continues

30 Jun

Opera North brought their Siegfried to the Sage in Gateshead on 29th June and I’m still on a glorious Wagner high – that one where the tunes go round and and round and you feel that anything is possible.

I described their approach when I wrote about Die Walküre last year.  It hasn’t changed much and it remains a very strong, simple way of getting the operas across.  The singers know what they’re singing about and act as committedly.  They communicate vividly to the audience.  You’re able to imagine those things that are so difficult in the theatre but so wonderfully managed by Wagner – Siegfried crossing the magic fire, the forging of the sword.  There are also one or two irritations.  The constantly changing images provide a mildly pleasant backdrop but don’t add much.  I also found reading the narrative distracting at times – at the beginning of Act II you want the stage to be as dark and black as the music rather than to read the surtitles.  The surtitles were projected over the images and, particularly, in the last act, really did not contrast well, so you couldn’t follow them as well as you needed.

What I suspect was missing most was the connection with the other operas.  It’s a year since Walküre and two since Rheingold.  It’s easy to forget the images of the previous operas and, in Siegfried, the references to what has gone before, the previous relationships are extremely important.  There’s a rumour that they’ll be doing the full cycle in 2015 and that would help.

The cast is good.  The discovery is Mati Turi as Siegfried.  He has the heft and the youthful ringing quality to the voice that make him sound like a genuine heldentenor.  His last notes sounded as fresh and as ringing as his first.  It’s not perfect – there were some passages which stretched him absolutely to his limits.  I wonder how he would come across in a larger house, with a less considerate conductor than Richard Farnes.   His acting was perfectly adequate for this performance and he created a nice sense of wonder in the forest scene.  He doesn’t look an obvious young hero but, frankly, with this voice, I’m unworried.

Michael Druiett was also stretched absolutely to his vocal limit as Wotan.  He managed to get through it – the voice sounds good and he knows what it’s about, but you good hear the struggle.

Annalena Persson was back as Brünnhilde – her clear, steely voice sounds good for the role and she managed the shifts in Brünnhilde’s emotions beautifully.  You needed to make no allowances in the duet as both singers made it sound joyous and charted the way their attraction goes really intelligently – even though you were aware that Wagner takes a huge amount of time to get it there.

Richard Roberts made a cringing, intelligent Mime – nicely sung and interracting well with Siegfried.  Jo Pohlheim struck me as a major discovery as Alberich – a great, grainy black voice and a lowering presence who made the most of his scene with Wotan.  Mats Almgrem as Fafner was equally good – a superb black voice and he made you sympathise with the dragon.  Ceri Williams was a firm, strong-voiced Erda who made a lot of her scene with Wotan – she struck me as very promising indeed.  Joanne Dexter was the understudy Woodbird and was very good indeed.

The star, of course, is the English Northern Philharmonia and Richard Farnes.  Farnes and the orchestra relish the climaxes and the different colours of the score.  He paces these marvellously and guides you through the themes and the ideas really coherently.  It sounds great in the Sage.  The orchestra is good even if you don’t get the sheer skill and sheen of more expensive ones.  You were aware of exactly how difficult it is – the jaunty end to the second Act needs a bit more precision, the horns at the end of the opera a bit more precision and clarity.  But you have to admire the skill commitment and intensity of this performance.

Roll on Götterdämmerung.

 

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