Having mightily impressed with the first two instalments of their ambitious Ring Cycle, Melbourne Opera whetted audience appetite for their full 2023 Bendigo Ring Cycle with a full complement of splendid musical performances in Siegfried in Concert.
With the primary focus on Wagner’s extraordinary music, the hard working musicians of the Melbourne Opera Orchestra deservedly took their place centre stage. In the very capable hands of maestro Anthony Negus, the instrumental performance brought out all manner of warmth, drama, colour, and spectacle in the score.
Acoustics of Elisabeth Murdoch Hall allowed the singers to be clearly heard in all but a few moments, such as the climactic forging of the sword Nothung by Siegfried. The final thrilling bars of act one were sensational, leaving the grateful audience eager for more as they went into the first interval.
Audience comprehension was very well supported by a large overhead screen displaying surtitles with impeccably precise timing. So large is the screen, in fact, that the German lyrics are included along with the English translations. The screen was also used to convey helpful background details during the prelude to each act.
In the absence of Andrew Bailey’s settings and Harriet Oxley’s costumes, the storytelling focus was squarely upon the singers. Rather than give a simple concert performance, director Suzanne Chaundy had the cast of eight give full acting interpretations of their roles. Singers stood in their own space, facing front, as with a traditional opera concert, but action and interaction were at a premium, bringing the characters and story to engaging life.
Tenor Robert Macfarlane followed this approach enthusiastically, entering in full character and taking Mime on a maniacal arc of desperation as the greedy dwarf plotted to use his young charge Siegfried with both avaricious and deadly intent. Macfarlane repurposed the anvil leitmotif into the beating of his head in frustration and rage, tearing his hair as Mime’s schemes met infuriating obstacles.
Macfarlane sang the role with nimble vocal expression, sturdily complementing his physical acting choices.
Bradley Daley brought out the innocent optimism of Siegfried, his sunny outlook providing an entertaining counterpoint to the storm clouds of Macfarlane’s maleficent Mime.
Daley’s ringing power impressed, his clarion heldentenor never flagging throughout the epic opera. He achieved lovely tenderness when Siegfried expressed his longing for the dear mother he never met. Daley additionally impressed by being off book, allowing his open facial expression to be shared directly with the audience at all times.
Returning as Wotan, Warwick Fyfe carried his character’s commanding authority in his powerful stance, backed by potent vocal power, a strength which surged ever voluminously in moments of Wotan’s rage.
Entering with the ominous rumbling timpani at the top of act two, Simon Meadows found strength in stillness, giving Alberich a steely, unflinching power. In commanding vocal form, Meadows’ gloriously rich baritone rang forth with darkly burnished majesty. Also off book, Meadow shone brightly despite the relatively thankless nature of his role.
Seen all too briefly, Steven Gallop nonetheless made an invaluable contribution, providing a dynamic pairing Meadow. An excellent singer actor, Gallop’s menacing tone vocalised the sinister dragon form that Fafner had adopted.
Instrumental highlights in the second act included amusing playing from the oboes as Siegfried fashioned his pipe to call the Forest Bird. A sprightly French horn solo followed, with Siegfried’s noble leitmotif played with nimble dexterity and lovely tone by Evgeny Chebkykin. So expressive was the orchestral playing in the final bars of act two that the Forest Bird could practically be seen flittering overhead.
The first female to grace the stage in the concert, soprano Rebecca Rashleigh gave a luscious rendition of the sweetly supportive encouragement from the Forest Bird.
Conveying the serene majesty of mother earth herself, Deborah Humble brought a calmly focused presence to earth goddess Erda. Humble’s dramatic mezzo soprano voice commanded attention in a finely calibrated performance. To watch highly experienced artists Humble and Fyfe share the stage was a key pleasure of Siegfried in Concert.
After more than four hours, not to mention a wait of many months since the February season of Die Walküre, Brünnhilde was finally rescued by Siegfried. In the final scene of Siegfried, the audience was treated to the very welcome appearance of golden soprano Lee Abrahmsen.
Revisiting their strong chemistry from Die Walküre, in which they played Sieglinde and Siegmund, Abrahmsen and Daley ended the opera on a glorious high as Brünnhilde awoke to new life and Siegfried finally met his mother and developed the emotion of fear.
Upon entry, an audience member was heard describing the attendees at Siegfried in Concert as “the cultural elite of Melbourne.” This might be just a little too rarefied, but the opera lovers lucky enough to attend the concert were certainly treated to an unforgettable cultural event. Bring on 2023 and the Bendigo Ring Cycle!
Siegfried in Concert played at Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre at 2pm on Sunday 25 September 2022.
Melbourne Opera will present three cycles of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo 24 March – 1 May 2023. For tickets, click here.
Man in Chair reviewed Melbourne Opera: Das Rheingold: “Grandly conceived and splendidly realised, Das Rheingold sees Melbourne Opera scale new heights of grandeur.”
Man in Chair reviewed Melbourne Opera: Die Walküre: “Melbourne Opera triumphantly presents the keenly anticipated second instalment of their ever-so-patiently crafted Ring Cycle, Die Walküre.”