If one were to ask a random sample of ten opera-goers which part of the Ring was their favourite, approximately none of them would respond "Siegfried". The third part of the tetralogy is somewhat hard to like: the eponymous hero is at best something of a bully, at worst a covert expression of the composer’s anti-Semitism, and his naïve transports can be hard to take. Even the love duet between Siegfried and Brünnhilde at the end of the opera is far inferior to the fervent exchanges between Siegmund and Sieglinde in Die Walküre. So the fact that I found Siegfried the most uniformly enjoyable part of the Melbourne Ring so far is testimony to the production, singers and musicians. If the crescendo of pleasure continues on Monday, then Götterdämmerung will be very special indeed.

Stefan Vinke (Siegfried) © Jeff Busby
Stefan Vinke (Siegfried)
© Jeff Busby

The set for Act I was very shallow, with the back wall only a few metres from the footlights, a factor which considerably aided the projection of the singers’ voices. The apartment shared by Mime and Siegfried was laid out linearly: kitchen, workspace, sitting room and bunk beds. Both the modern domesticity of the set, and Siegfried dressing in a bear costume to tease Mime (rather than lugging on a captured bear) suggested the influence of the Copenhagen Ring.

A toy dragon and hand-drawn paintings of animals by Siegfried’s bed emphasised the youthfulness of the title character, and Stefan Vinke played him as a boisterous teenager, thoughtless in his strength. Vinke brought enormous physical vitality to the role and sang tirelessly throughout, seemingly unaffected by one of the longest and hardest Heldentenor roles in the repertory. An especial highlight was the Act I forging song, in which he coped admirably with a rather slow tempo and delivered testosterone-filled top notes.

James Johnson (Wanderer) and Graeme Macfarlane (Mime) © Jeff Busby
James Johnson (Wanderer) and Graeme Macfarlane (Mime)
© Jeff Busby

Graeme Macfarlane also excelled as Mime, avoiding excessive caricature and yet capturing the comedy and the vulnerability of the dwarf. His recitation of Sieglinde’s death was a surprisingly moving moment in a mainly comic act. James Johnson was a revelation here: after sounding somewhat underpowered early in the tetralogy, he was vocally commanding as the majestic Wanderer (aka Wotan) throughout, and his final confrontation with Siegfried in Act III was profound and gripping.

Jud Arthur (Fafner) © Jeff Busby
Jud Arthur (Fafner)
© Jeff Busby
Act II began with an enormous projection of Jud Arthur’s face, snarling and grimacing as he slowly applied clownish make-up. As Fafner, Arthur sounded appropriately sepulchral through the modern equivalent of the speaking trumpet. His death was conveyed by spurting red ribbons as Siegfried stabbed through the hole at the back of the set; a tasteful interpretation that set up the shock of a stark naked and bloody Arthur stepping into view for his final utterances.

Yet again Warwick Fyfe shone as Alberich, switching easily between tense melodrama as he confronted Wotan and a more quirkily comic register in his exchanges with Mime. Another delight in this act was Julie Lea Goodwin as a graceful woodbird, making the most of her extended stage time to steal food from Siegfried’s satchel, and watch enthralled as Siegfried put the scheming Mime to death.

For Act III, the proscenium arch which had framed Mime’s house and Fafner’s cave was repurposed as a free-standing frame, spinning portentously during the marvellous Prelude, and later serving as the curtain of fire through which Siegfried penetrated to arrive at Brünnhilde’s rock. Touches of the showbiz feel to Rheingold resurfaced here in the shiny gold curtain representing the flames, which earlier in Mime’s hallucination had been suggested by flashing lights. Another throwback to Monday was the sight of the heroine in the sort of packing case previously used to house Wotan’s collection of animals. Brünnhilde’s awakening was beautifully choreographed, and her dilemma at losing her independence before succumbing to Siegfried was convincingly portrayed.

Liane Keegan was in fine form here as Erda; she was positioned a little further downstage than in Rheingold, and her sound benefited considerably. As Brünnhilde, Lise Lindstrom continued where she left off in Walküre, with finely gradated emotions expressed in her ringing soprano, and a triumphant top C at the end of the duet.

Lise Lindstrom (Brünnhilde) and Stefan Vinke (Siegfried) © Jeff Busby
Lise Lindstrom (Brünnhilde) and Stefan Vinke (Siegfried)
© Jeff Busby

Aside from the occasional imperfection in tuning, the orchestra once again turned in a sterling performance, although the horn player split a liberal handful of notes in the infamous solo passage when Siegfried awakens the dragon with his horn call. One of the only places where Inkinen let the orchestra dominate was the culmination of Mime’s hallucinations, where the fiery music drowned Macfarlane’s cries of "Fafner", but this was not dramatically unwarranted. The open pit may throw up challenges in terms of balance, but it has also allowed the perception of fine details of Wagner’s colouristic orchestration: particularly gorgeous was the delicate sound beginning the "Ewig war ich" section of the duet, the tune famously repurposed for the Siegfried Idyll.

*****