United Kingdom Wagner, Götterdämmerung: Soloists and Orchestra of Opera North/Richard Farnes (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, 3.7.2016. (JPr)
Kelly Cae Hogan – Brünnhilde
Mati Turi – Siegfried
Mats Almgren – Hagen
Giselle Allen – Gutrune
Andrew Foster-Williams – Gunther
Heather Shipp – Waltraute
Jo Pohlheim – Alberich
Fiona Kimm – First Norn
Yvonne Howard – Second Norn
Lee Bisset – Third Norn
Jeni Bern – Woglinde
Madeleine Shaw – Wellgunde
Sarah Castle – Flosshilde
Peter Mumford staging, design & concept, lighting designer, production director
Joe Austin associate director
I have had comments through Seen and Heard and direct that some readers were upset that I didn’t agree with other critics about Opera North’s Siegfried. It is a shame we cannot all be in agreement about everything – the EU, the leadership of our major political parties, for instance! I am also grateful for those who did agree with me. That Siegfried two days previously had not entirely gripped those watching was reflected by the two gentlemen either side of me snoozing gently as the evening entered its sixth hour. The one to my left was one of those critics who presumably had thoroughly enjoyed the performance!
To use a modern phrase that was so last Friday and now this was Götterdämmerung which indeed was a fine performance that I have very few quibbles about! There were a few singers reprising their roles from earlier in the Ring but, most importantly, there was a new Siegfried. It says a lot about the state of Wagner singing today when the same singer is not singing Siegfried in both operas. This is not just the case with Opera North but happens frequently elsewhere. I know it was another time – as much a part of history to some as WWI that we are currently commemorating – but in the 1970s the late Alberto Remedios sang Siegmund and both Siegfrieds in two Rings over two weeks! I was pleased to overhear many people talking fondly about him during the long interval.
What a difference two days make as well as better singers leading to a better performance. The Prologue and Act I were intensely gripping from first note to last. I must get my solitary gripe over first; the half-hearted semi-staging should have been re-thought, but it is too late now. For instance, after a dramatic encounter at the end of Act I when Gunther wrestles the ‘ring’ from Brünnhilde, both he and his alter ego Siegfried, who was beside him, hold up the supposed trinket. Of course, there was nothing in their hands and it was as if they had picked a loose hair off the singer’s evening gown! How difficult would it have been to have a proper ring, as well as, a spear for Hagen and something for Siegfried to drink from when he is drugged?
The Orchestra of Opera North was mostly on tremendous form and Richard Farnes had a better grasp of the opening of Götterdämmerung than anything he achieved with Siegfried. The urgency of his conducting carried the narrative along a wave of inevitability; his pacing seemed instinctive, there was ebb and flow and much interesting detail. The Norns were an experienced trio with Lee Bisset’s Third Norn clearly auditioning for the Brünnhilde she will undoubtedly become if she wants (Bisset is already a fine Sieglinde and Isolde). Clearly there was a dress code at the very beginning when this Ring was put together because Mati Turi’s Siegfried came on twice the size of Lars Cleveman (who sang the role in the eponymous opera) but still in open-necked shirt, waistcoat and untied bowtie as before … but all a few sizes bigger! Everyone else was in their best concert wear. Mati Turi – unlike Cleveman – is a true Siegfried if not a huge voice either.
Mats Almgren’s Hagen had hints of Kurt Rydl and was gruff, baleful and oozed a quiet menace. Hagen’s Ruf soon revealed the limitations of his voice, which is best suited to Fafner than evil incarnate. However, he performed with such conviction that I found it impossible to take my eyes off him when he was on stage, whether singing or not. Jo Pohlheim’s chilling cameo as Alberich was mightily impressive without the thought fleeing my mind that his voice is ideal for Hagen as well as the Wanderer. In far more prestigious stagings I have heard far worse Gibichung siblings than Tom Hollander-lookalike Andrew Foster-Williams and Giselle Allen as Gunther and Gutrune. Heather Shipp as Waltraute sang with a real sense of her character as a scared Valkyrie sister. Kelly Cae Hogan’s Brünnhilde seemed to have been warmed up by Siegfried and she sang with strength, security, ardent fervour and blooming radiance to assuage the doubts I had before. She was more womanly – if I am allowed to write that these days – than some and reminiscent of Anne Evans rather more than her compatriot Deborah Polaski who was a genuine warrior maid.
The best was left for the very last. Act III worked surprisingly well from the well-choreographed appearance of three appealing Rhinemaidens in blue singing attractively and often in perfect unison, which is not always the case. Apart from that annoying lack of a minimal number of props, Peter Mumford’s semi-staging did not botch any of the key moments of the story through Act II and until the (non-existent) ring is kept out of Hagen’s clutches. Even the video images and captions were not as annoying, mainly because I mostly ignored them all. There was much more interaction between characters despite them hardly ever singing to each other and facing out to the audience. I found Siegfried’s Death and Funeral Music very emotional not least because we have recently lost Alberto Remedios.
Mati Turi was the star of this performance, sincere, open-faced, relaxed, with a voice more lyrical than stentorian, he was as good a Siegfried as I am likely to hear in 2016. The other stars were the resonant and powerful voices of the Chorus of Opera North and last on this occasion but no means least, there was Richard Farnes and his musicians. The burnished brass despite some fragility – which surely must have been avoidable – underpinned a rich and deep orchestral sound.
It was all so much better than Siegfried and I finally understood what all the fuss was about concerning Opera North and this Ring!
For more about Opera North visit https://www.operanorth.co.uk/.
BBC Radio 3 will broadcast Opera North’s complete Ring from Sage Gateshead in the final performances of this cycle between 5-10 July 2016.