Riddle games. Sword-forging. Dragon-slaying. The set piece tropes in Siegfried are so familiar to us, like a comfortable old coat, that it’s easy to miss a more subtle theme: at this point of the Ring cycle, each of the main characters is forced into acceptance of the changes that will befall them. Mime accepts that he cannot forge the sword, Fafner accepts his death and the foolishness of his cupidity for the ring, Brünnhilde and Siegfried understand that their love changes everything.

Gerhard Siegel (Mime), Stefan Vinke (Siegfried) © Gábor Kotschy, Müpa Budapest
Gerhard Siegel (Mime), Stefan Vinke (Siegfried)
© Gábor Kotschy, Müpa Budapest

Last night at Müpa, the outstanding set piece was the riddle game. When Mime makes the unfortunate choice of asking the Wanderer which race lives above the clouds, Tomasz Konieczny steps forward, plants his spear firmly on the stage and turns on the bass-baritone afterburners to declaim “the Gods”, revealing himself as Wotan in his full majesty; his tones power through the orchestral brass playing the Valhalla leitmotif. It was a thrill to remember, one of those enthralling moments that keep opera lovers hooked on their drug and coming back for more.

Gerhard Siegel can perform Mime in many ways. I’ve seen him do the hapless comic fall guy in Paris and a figure of tragic pathos at Covent Garden. Last night, he produced a synthesis of these two things that was nothing short of spellbinding, both as a piece of acting and in his use of the voice. Rattling semiquavers emphasised the comic aspects. He produced perfect legato and warmth of timbre for his despair at the impossibility of forging Nothung. When it came to the dwarf’s bombastic moments of hope for world domination, his power was not so far short of Konieczny’s.

Stefan Vinke (Siegfried), Allison Oakes (Brünnhilde) © Gábor Kotschy, Müpa Budapest
Stefan Vinke (Siegfried), Allison Oakes (Brünnhilde)
© Gábor Kotschy, Müpa Budapest

The title role of Siegfried is the most difficult in the whole Ring cycle, partly because of its extreme vocal demands, but also because it’s so hard to make us view the man as anything other than a violent spoilt brat. Stefan Vinke solves the problem by simple dint of digging into boundless reserves of enthusiasm: he is an irresistible life force when set against the dark, brooding nature of the characters around him.

Dark and brooding, that is, until he awakens Brünnhilde from her rock in Act 3. Allison Oakes has received many plaudits in these pages as Gutrune and she excelled in the larger role: there is a depth and warmth to the middle register of her voice that makes her compelling in her outpouring of passion. In this very long duet, she gave a particularly fine exposition of the ebb and flow of her emotions as she veers from dazed and barely awake to passionately in love to blind terror at losing the divine authority that was once hers. The voice can harden up in the high notes, but there aren’t too many of those in Siegfried and they were safely negotiated.

Tomasz Konieczny (Wanderer), Erika Gál (Erda) © Gábor Kotschy, Müpa Budapest
Tomasz Konieczny (Wanderer), Erika Gál (Erda)
© Gábor Kotschy, Müpa Budapest

Overall, Hartmut Schörghofer’s staging worked well in Das Rheingold and intermittently well in Die Walküre, but in Siegfried, it repeatedly ignored details of the text and missed the emotional mark as a result. So the Brünnhilde-Siegfried duet was a compelling musical rendering, but it wasn’t helped by a main theme of all enveloping fire which burns away the sleeping figure to reveal Brünnhilde. There was much darkness and starlight to be set against a text which is full of references to the sun banishing the darkness. It’s not necessarily a bad idea to use a cartoon dragon, but it’s a very bad idea indeed to produce a childishly cheerful one whose heart is inexplicably in the region of its throat (in direct contradiction to Siegfried’s conversation with Mime). Konieczny and Erika Gál both sang superbly in the scene between Wotan and Erda, but the whole point is that you’re supposed to get a distant voice which grows in power as Erda rises from the depths and then fades as Wotan sends her back into her slumbers, finally understanding that his doom is on its way. The effect was destroyed by Gál being made to sing the whole thing from offstage, inevitably sounding weakly distant as a result.

But setting aside any reservations about the staging, this was a third evening in a row of marvellous musical performances. Péter Kálmán was venomous as Alberich, Walter Fink reached gravelly low notes as Fafner (the low G flat of “lasst mich schlafen” was gorgeous) and Eszter Zemlényi was a tuneful woodbird. Will I ever hear Siegfried better sung? Perhaps not. Once more, the orchestra demonstrated their ability to paint musical colour in this hall: Siegfried’s horn call, executed on stage, proved to be a textbook demonstration of how to shift colours on a single brass instrument to vivid effect.

To be resumed with the three Norns...


Read the reviews of the other operas in the cycle: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Götterdämmerung.

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