There were many who regretted missing an outstanding performance of Die Walküre at last year’s Edinburgh International Festival, making this year’s Siegfried billed as one of the shows to be at, The Hallé orchestra with Mark Elder taking over the Wagnerian reins, with some singers making a return to the Usher Hall. Nicknamed the Ring’s scherzo, all about the coming of age of Siegfried the fearless hero, it is perhaps the trickiest of the tetralogy to pull off. The scale is monumental, placing huge demands on players and singers, especially Siegfried who after an evening’s strident sword forging and fearless dragon slaying must still have enough energy, passion and voice left to overcome Wotan, burst through the ring of fire and win over a reluctant and feisty Brünnhilde.

The cast at curtain call © Ryan Buchanan
The cast at curtain call
© Ryan Buchanan

The Hallé has been getting The Ring under its belt over the past few years, and the sense of the players’ absolute enjoyment permeated the performance. It was thrilling to be able to watch an orchestra freed from the confines of the opera house pit playing this work on the concert platform. Sir Mark Elder put the powerhouse cellos and violas centre stage, violins left and right with four double basses either side, making the strings sound completely balanced and blended rather than directional. Six centrally arranged harps towered over everything on the foot of the organ gallery platform. Elder’s intelligent musical pacing contrasted the big standout pieces and leitmotifs with the opera’s many delicate moments, colouring reflective tender spots and supporting his singers impressively, essential in this opera. There were tremendous solo spots from several, especially a perfect Siegfried’s horn-call from Laurence Rogers and including Will Oinn who made a playful show of having trouble with his cor anglais as Siegfried tried to fashion a reed pipe in the forest – something you can only see in concert performance. The “Forest Murmurs” and ensemble birdsong shimmered, the fire music crackled in the air and key big moments were glorious, especially the fully burnished brass with heroic tuba and bass trumpet work, the music heart-stopping when the “Idyll” arrived at the end.

The singers were semi-staged and all off the score except Simon O’Neill’s Siegfried which tied him to Elder’s right for most of the time and meant he was not quite as assimilated into the direction as the other characters, which was a pity. Vocally this was strongly cast with Gerhard Siegel’s impressively believable Mime, cunning and malevolent, hunched in his workman’s shirt grudgingly revealing Siegfried’s history. Iain Paterson gave a barnstorming performance as the weary Wanderer, entering in black shirt and trousers, a smart travellers’ coat and Birkenstocks, his ash staff and expansive bass-baritone still carrying godlike authority, his cool shades conveying disguise. The riddle scene with the orchestra on leitmotif roundup was a highlight, Mime scratching his head for ideas of how to outwit the knowing Wanderer and the amusing moment when they almost shake hands, but don’t.

Simon O’Neill proved he had the vocal stamina for Siegfried, his voice as steely as the sword he forged, slightly on the edge in the forest, he found enough in reserve to pull out a fine performance in the final long scene as Brünnhilde wakens. His costume intrigued the Edinburgh crowd as he appeared in a sweatshirt and casual trousers with flip-flops and then bare feet, putting on a jacket and shiny black shoes to confront the Wanderer and finally donning a smart white shirt for his fiery date on the mountain.

Samuel Youn’s Alberich was also impressive, outdoing his brother’s nastiness – a real vocal heavyweight. He recognised the Wanderer immediately in one of the evening’s most dramatic scenes, grabbing the conductor’s rail as if to give purchase to his stream of invective about the stolen gold, but the Valhalla tune came round and the Wanderer had the upper hand. Anna Larsson’s smouldering mezzo convinced as Erda, barefoot in black chiffon, understandably grumpy at being disturbed. Danae Kontora stood in last-minute as a brightly sung Woodbird (Malin Christensson was unwell) appearing left and right behind the orchestra in white jeans, red shirt and jacket with gold sequins. Clive Bayley as Fafner was mostly offstage, but entered as the dying dragon confronting Siegfried for his last lines.

We waited almost four hours to hear Brünnhilde, here Christine Goerke all in smart black trousers, top and jacket, joyously wakening after so many years, rebutting Siegfried before being won over, her voice radiant in the final duet. 

A performance with so many heroes and full of memorable moments, it fell fractionally short of the high bar of last year’s Walküre magic, but it was an absolute treat to be there. Edinburgh awaits Götterdämmerung next Festival with keen anticipation.