Siegfried, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, July 2013

rah140x1051A young man brought up in a foreign country encounters an old man who gets in his way, so he sweeps him aside with his sword, not knowing it is his grandfather. Shades of the Oedipus myth here, but the curse comes not from marrying his mother but taking the Ring. The old man, Wotan, is fully aware of the problem but entirely at a loss. He has already summoned the wise Erda, only to be told he has made a mess of things, so he now challenges the young man, Siegfried, is beaten and resigns himself to giving up his power. Siegfried will marry Brünnhilde and they will rule the new world. Were it only so simple.

The great thing about doing the Ring at the Proms is an avoidance of designs — just raw music, plus conductor, orchestra and singers to do it full justice. It’s a treat.

I saw Barenboim with this orchestra and many of the same singers in Berlin in April, but this was better. There were no irritating dancers, and no Woodbird choreography at odds with the music. Also in Berlin, Lance Ryan failed to show up as Siegfried in Act I, but here he managed all three acts and did a terrific job of this extraordinarily demanding role. His interactions with the Mime of Peter Bronder were excellent, and as soon as Terje Stensvold as the Wanderer (Wotan) came on, the performance went up another notch. Stensvold’s phrasing was superb, as was his stage presence.

From Rheingold, Johannes Martin Kränzle, Eric Halfvarson and Anna Larsson returned for fine performances of Alberich, Fafner and Erda, and Rinnat Moriah joined them as a delightful Woodbird. From Walküre, Nina Stemme returned in Act III as Brünnhilde, and any lingering doubts about her performance in the early part of Walküre were dispelled by a stunning awakening scene and gradual willingness to yield to Lance Ryan’s attractively forceful Siegfried.

The magnificent orchestra of the Berlin Staatsoper under Daniel Barenboim produced a huge dynamical range in the Albert Hall, from barely audible softness in Act I as Siegfried thinks about his mother’s death in childbirth, to tremendous power as he re-enters later. Wonderful forest music, particularly before the second entrance of the Woodbird, and huge colour as Siegfried goes through the flames.

Of course we don’t see the usual stage effects, but Mime hit a small anvil at the start in perfect time to the music, and Siegfried’s horn calls led him to enter the orchestra to look for the strange noises, later interacting with a horn player at the side of the orchestra. And then at the end the audience was bathed in a warm glow as Siegfried and Brünnhilde sang in sublime union. Costumes were the usual ones for concert performances, and I loved Nina Stemme’s dresses. The primitive design in Walküre bespoke youthful energy, and the pink dress in Siegfried suited the glory of the occasion, while Rinnat Moriah’s dress as the Woodbird fitted beautifully the naturalness of the forest.

With Wotan relinquishing his power and grand design to Siegfried the stage is set for forces beyond Wotan’s control to destroy his power and his palace. The Ring is a lesson in the hubris of grand schemes — gods and politicians beware.

Click for reviews of Rheingold and WalküreGötterdämmerung continues on July 28.

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