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Siegfried (BBC Proms)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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For some people, Siegfried is the weakest or least attractive part of The Ring and it's difficult to know why. Certainly, there are troublesome aspects, such as the unsavoury character of its hero, the "ūbermensch" who maltreats the sub-race out of a sense of his own superiority, and all the associations that go with that, but it's a work of extraordinary power and beauty. The final act, the climatic love duet between the youthful hero and his aunt, is arguably the finest of the whole work.

Lance Ryan (Siegfried) and Nina Stemme (Brünnhilde)
© Chris Christodoulou
When shorn of an unsatisfactory staging, as it was here, it can pack a punch every bit as winding as the other operas in the cycle and the impact of the BBC Proms' first "Ring" in a single season was strongly felt in this third instalment. The Staatskapelle Berlin's playing was sublime, bolstered by near perfect pacing from Barenboim.

The first two acts were good but the third raised the performance to a whole new level, the conductor shaping it with tremendous dramatic understanding and the utmost finesse. Perhaps the busy physicality of the first act, Siegfried's sweaty welding of the mighty sword Nothung, could have done with more cragginess than the smoothness Barenboim gave it but it's a small quibble and entirely a matter of taste.

Peter Bronder's superbly characterised and ringingly-sung Mime contrasted with the least Alberich-looking Alberich you're ever likely to see, in Johannes Martin Kränzle‘s tall and urbane persona. Physically, he could almost have been a Wotan and Terje Stensvold‘s slightly uncharismatic but sympathetic Wanderer might have been his twin.

Eric Halfvarson was a thunderous Fafner, singing from somewhere in the organ loft before appearing behind the bust of Henry Wood in his dying moments, while Anna Larsson's glamour, in a slinky red dress, belied the hoarfrost-bitten demeanor of the Earth goddess Erda. Rinnat Moriah was a lovely woodbird, warbling from on high in the choir.

So much rests on the title character and Lance Ryan's easy charm and vocal stamina gave us, by a long way, the best interpretation of the role we've seen in London for some time. You'll certainly hear bigger heldentenor voices but he showed why he's in such demand in the role around the world with a completely convincing portrayal of the problematic hero. In a concert performance that had a minimal amount of directorial intervention (from director Justin Way), his clowning during the forest scene, which included some spontaneous looking banter with the horn player, brought welcome comic relief.

Ryan was matched by Nina Stemme's radiantly vulnerable Brunnhilde, sung with pinpoint accuracy. We've come to know her near peerless Isolde and seeing her Valkyrie now is a treat. London hasn't heard singing of this quality in the two roles since Remedios and Hunter.

While the BBC Proms gave us the cycle over a four year period a few years ago, the enormous cumulative effect of hearing all four works in quick succession seems to be awakening a new audience to Wagner's genius in his bicentenary year.