Siegfried, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2012

Wotan’s meeting with Erda that starts Act III of Siegfried is a focal point in his demise.  After awakening her for advice she tells him to ask Brünnhilde, their daughter bold and wise, but learning Wotan has cast her aside, she asks why he who taught defiance punished defiance, why he who ruled by vows now rules by perjury. Wotan responds angrily, and in most productions Erda simply sinks back down into the earth, but in Keith Warner’s staging he stabs her in the side with his spear and she slumps over the side of her throne.

Act I, all images ROH/ Clive Barda

This deeply flawed Wotan, whose downfall may be represented by the crash-landed aeroplane we see in Act I, was superbly portrayed and sung by Bryn Terfel, and his encounters with Mime in Act I, Alberich in Act II, and Siegfried in Act III were beautifully represented. While Wotan is the key to this opera, the cast was a strong one despite the illness of Wolfgang Koch as Alberich, which led to an interesting last minute scramble.

According to Kasper Holten, who appeared on stage before the start, Koch informed the ROH this morning that he would be unable to sing, so they flew Jochen Schmeckenbecher in from Vienna. Holten smilingly told us he was already on his way through passport control, and from the wings in Act II, with Koch acting the role on stage, he gave a fine performance.

As Mime, Gerhard Siegel was in excellent voice, his acting superb, and in Act II this scheming liar dons an ass’s head whenever he speaks his true thoughts to Siegfried. This is a nice aspect of the production, as is the representation of Fafner. After he puts on the tarnhelm, turns into a dragon and is fatally wounded, Siegfried places the helm on the floor, lifts it up and the head continues to sing. Later he brings the dead head to stage front, placing it next to the body of Mime. While still alive, Eric Halfvarson sang a wonderful Fafner, his deep notes carrying an air of otherworldly wisdom and menace. Lovely singing from Sophie Bevan as the Woodbird, and her clever contemporaneous contortions on the trapeze were a wonder to behold.

Woodbird and Siegfried

She interacted well with Siegfried, whom Stefan Vinke portrayed to perfection as a strong brash fellow. His powerful singing had a great clarity of tone, and he seemed entirely at ease on stage. Sadly this was not so true for Susan Bullock’s Brünnhilde, and though her voice showed charm, particularly in unaccompanied passages, her stage presence failed to convey the power of this role. Whether she will have the imperious glance to face down Gutrune in Act III of Götterdämmerung remains to be seen on Monday.

End of Act III

The orchestra was on top form under Antonio Pappano’s direction, giving great support to the singers, and I loved the percussion work by Stefan Vinke’s Siegfried as he tempers the sword. A wonderful performance all round, and such a pity that Bryn Terfel is now out of it. His response to the thunderous applause was admirably restrained, and he seems to be happy to be just one of an excellent team.

There are four Ring cycles, the final Siegfried being on October 31 — for details click here. There will also be a live broadcast on Radio 3 on Sunday, October 21 at 2:45 pm, and Christmas broadcasts of Acts I, II and III on December 28, 31 and January 1 at 4:30 pm.

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