The Lowry, Salford
Opera North's concert presentation of Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle reaches the penultimate, and in many ways most difficult, chapter.
The lust of Wotan (Michael Druiett) for magic gold has begun a sequence of events that will lead to the downfall of the Norse Gods. Mortal twins whom he fathered reached adulthood and, unaware of their relationship fell in love. Wotan's daughter Brunnhilde disobeyed her father to allow the twins to consummate their passion. As punishment she is made mortal and condemned to sleep until awakened by a hero. Such a hero is Siegfried (Mati Turi) the child of the incestuous couple who, unaware of his origins, has been raised by a dwarf Mime (Richard Roberts) but one day a mysterious stranger arrives to nudge Siegfried towards his destiny.
With Siegfried it becomes hard to ignore Wagner's extreme political views. The titular hero is very much the personification of the Aryan superhuman whereas other races, such as the dwarves, are used as comic figures and generally treated with contempt. Siegfried is shown as a thundering bully mercilessly tormenting the man who raised him. Mati Turi mitigates this characteristic with a larger than life performance suggesting the overbearing nature is a by-product of immense joy for life but it's a tough sell.
The opera lacks any of the really well known musical pieces. Divided into three 80-minute acts the most typically Wagnerian is the third, which is dominated by a thunderous dramatic score and a lengthy vocal duet between Turi and Annalena Persson whose rather strident vocals become tiresome after a while.
This contrasts with the surprisingly pastoral second act featuring charming interplay between Turi and Fflur Wyn's charismatic Woodbird. The skill of the massive Opera North orchestra and the sensitive conducting of Richard Farnes are superbly showcased with the opening act. Farnes uses grumbling low tones building gradually to develop a growing sense of menace and suspense. The process is so subtle you don't realise how tense you've become until the occasional blast of music releases the carefully constructed pressure.
The heroic status of Siegfried is reduced by the fact that he never really meets any worthy opponents. The dragon is a sad isolated figure and the dwarves are more irritating than threatening. There is also the (presumably) unintentionally comic suggestion that the only reason Siegfried has never been afraid is that he has yet to meet a woman.
Siegfried cannot be really satisfying, as its purpose seems to be to set the scene for the final chapter of the Cycle. But it certainly shows the value of presenting the Ring Cycle in a concert setting that highlights the quality of the Opera North orchestra.
- Dave Cunningham