Wednesday, November 30, 2016

An unlikely hero, Opera Australia's Siegfried comes with its challenges: Herald Sun Review

Reaching part three, Siegfried lies at the nexus of Richard Wagner’s vast four-part journey through Der Ring des Nibelungen. Grandson to Wotan, ruler of the gods, the young mortal Siegfried is destined to retrieve the ring, ignorant of the supreme power it bestows on its beholder, and win Brünnhilde over.

Stefan Vinke as Siegfried
In Opera Australia’s Siegfried, the almighty music-making from the Melbourne Ring Orchestra under conductor Pietari Inkinen’s assiduous leadership continued its exquisite run on opening night. The creative team’s incisive devices — featuring a false proscenium that links each act — provided further intriguing theatricality and director Neil Armfield’s piquant and detailed exploration of the libretto remained evident. For the all-important titular role, however, the results yielded ambiguity.

Whether it’s because Siegfried is the offspring of Sigmund and Sieglinde’s incestuous love, or deprived of contact with the world under Mime’s selfish desire in raising him for purposes to attain the ring, Armfield’s Siegfried is so overplayed and weighted down as a mentally stunted wretch that Siegfried’s subsequent actions in his pursuits to learn fear and quest to find Brünnhilde seem unconvincing as the hero wanting to be seen depicted.

Navigating the balance between this uncomfortable marriage of immaturity and heroism over four hours didn’t come without issue for Stefan Vinke in this punishing role. Vinke’s command and terrific vocal freedom in Act 1’s compelling sword-crafting scene took a trajectory towards visible strain by Act 3 despite sterling heldentenor strength, excellent range and top notes resonating with pinpoint accuracy. Greater reinforcing texture in the voice was hoped for.

Alongside unwavering soprano Lise Lindstrom’s pure-toned and supple liquid radiance as Brünnhilde, the Siegfried Lindstrom faced wasn’t the one on show as she sang out “Do not come near me with your fierce presence”. Siegfried, still persisting with boyish demeanour, looked anything but the man to match Brünnhilde’s poised feminine strength.

Lise Lindstrom as Brünnhilde and Stefan Vinke as Siegfried
Honours for staying power go to towering baritone James Johnson’s increasingly forged temperament as Wotan’s disguised earthly Wanderer.

The surrounding top-gear cast featured Jud Arthur in outstanding form, pumping out bellowing bass from his suitably giant subwoofer-like cave as a naked and grotesque Fafner. The greedy Nibelung dwarf-brothers were impressively realised again with even greater fortified vocals by Graeme Macfarlane and Warwick Fyfe’s nervily animated Mime and Alberich.

Erda returned confused from her wisdom-rejuvenating slumber via Liane Keegan’s colossally sensitive performance and Julie Lea Goodwin’s fluttering golden soprano soothed the air as the Woodbird.

Reservations aside, this seamless fantastical other-dimension nonetheless continues to spin its ever so heightened portrayal of humankind’s travails with enthralling theatre.

Opera Australia
State Theatre, Arts Centre until December 14

Photo credits: Jeff Busby

Rating: three and a half stars

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