The third part of Daniel Barenboim’s Ring cycle at the Proms proved to be similarly successful to the first two operas of the cycle, leaving both audience and conductor apparently delighted at its conclusion.

Lance Ryan and Nina Stemme in a performance of Wagner’s Siegfried at the BBC Proms © BBC/Chris Christodoulou
Lance Ryan and Nina Stemme in a performance of Wagner’s Siegfried at the BBC Proms
© BBC/Chris Christodoulou

The chief justification for “semi-staged” productions such as this is that they encourage greater focus on the music, and particularly on the orchestra. The Staatskapelle Berlin have met this challenge with ease so far, and tonight, where their playing was unfailingly superb, was no different. Two key factors in this are the strong viola and cello sections, seated centrally and capable of luxurious legato and incisive rhythmic clarity, and the beautifully mellow brass section, who give colour to so much of the music. Special mention must go to the tuba player, whose long solos captured every drop of menace in Act I. Siegfried's famous horn call from Act II was played onstage by a guesting Stefan Dohr, principal horn of the Berliner Philharmoniker, who combined supremely confident playing with comic interaction with Siegfried. Barenboim had to drag him to his feet for a large cheer before Act III.

Canadian tenor Lance Ryan, singing the title role, gave a performance which will not suit all tastes. Until the very last scene, in which he wakes Brünnhilde, he was a distinctly dislikeable Siegfried, an arrogant, impetuous pup who earned little sympathy apart from briefly when musing on his mother. His hands-in-pockets, wide-open-collar appearance suggested similar. There were some brilliant moments, notably in his tormenting of Mime and obvious passion in reforging Nothung, and his stamina was unquestionable. The transformation in the last half hour was striking: as well as learning fear from his wife-to-be, he audibly seemed to learn love. His tone lost some of its coarseness, despite still being a little thin at the top of the range, and his final duet with Brünnhilde was suitably ecstatic, the auditorium lights coming up to a warm glow for this final scene.

Nina Stemme, reprising her title role from Die Walküre, was perhaps the catalyst for this change in Siegfried. Her awakening was slow, the intensity of her love taking time to develop and be explained, but once she got going, it was quite understandable that Siegfried should be mellowed. Anna Larsson’s Erda was similarly influential over the Wanderer. Though only a making brief appearance, she gave a pleasingly mystical account of their Act II meeting. Her full, motherly voice is well suited to the role, giving her an air of authority even over the chief of the Gods. Terje Stensvold, the third Wotan of the cycle, was outstanding in a dignified releasing of his grip on power.

Peter Bronder gave a superb performance as Mime, showing impressive tone throughout the vocal range and in quietly malicious plotting and outbursts of rage or terror. But for all his cringing, scheming villainy, Ryan’s obnoxious Siegfried and a straightforwardly evil Alberich (Johannes Martin Kränzle) cast an occasionally sympathetic light on Mime. Bronder rose to this too, seeming sadly pathetic after failing to answer the Wanderer’s third riddle.

Fafner (Eric Halfvarson) and the Woodbird (Rinnat Moriah) both sang superbly from daunting positions above the stage. Halfvarson’s opening lines were given from somewhere between the organ and the choir seats, and his projected power from here was amazingly full. Moriah, by contrast, sang airily from a vertiginous point at the very top of the the choir seats. The spatial separation between her and Siegfried and her clear diction made her convincingly bird-like.

In Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk ideal, poetry, music and scenery synergise to a transcendent whole. This opera, probably more than others in the cycle, is often said to be a fairy-tale, and in staged productions requires some bold dramatic action. Removing the scenery arm of this is risky, and requires the acting to be suggestive, but not self-consciously so. This production – and I think it can be called a production, rather than a mere concert performance &dndash; achieved this difficult feat, and credit must go to director Justin May for this. Furthermore, as well as guiding the audience’s imagination through the dragon scene, his direction and some good acting also set up some very pleasing inter-character relationships. The resentful, self-serving relationship between Siegfried and Mime and the psychology of the Act III exchange between Siegfried and Wotan were both well conveyed.

These sorts of performances also require orchestral playing of the highest calibre and brilliant directorship. The Staatskapelle Berlin and Daniel Barenboim obliged, and I can’t think of a more keenly anticipated musical event this year than his Götterdämmerung this Sunday.