by Rachel Beaumont

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Superhuman: Siegfried at the ROH

The Royal Opera
Royal Opera House
Upper Slips CC16, £19
7 October 2018
ROH page

There isn’t much that didn’t impress me about this Siegfried. Fate forced me to miss Thursday’s Die Walküre but this afternoon’s performance followed on from last week’s Das Rheingold in the uniform excellence of its singers and a production fussy yet rich in redeeming features – and advanced upon Rheingold significantly in the performance of the orchestra, former scrappiness brought into focus just enough to reveal a master plan that revels wantonly in the thick multi-textured pile of Wagner’s music.

Stefan Vinke turns in a superhuman performance in the title role, singing all the notes and by the end seemingly pepped to do the whole thing all over again. He’s most jaw-dropping when loud and high (so, often) and for a gloriously large handful of notes produces the kind of sound that nourishes the soul. It’s a little less thrilling when he pretends to try to sing quietly, and I think he’d be very near the bottom of my list of people I’d like to hear singing a lullaby – but then what would you do with a child-friendly Siegfried? Completed with a big Germanic grin and a penchant for flinging props around, Vinke’s Siegfried is big and loud and simple, and if you wanted dramatic nuance then he makes up for it in decibels and cast-iron reliability.

Nina Stemme seems to issue sound in a kind of aura about her, on a different plane from Vinke in a way that feels true to the music and the integrity of both singers’ sounds and approaches. She sings with complete control and consistency across her entire range, but yet more wonderfully produces a luminescence that that one feels before one hears. On the other end of the soprano scale but in her way just as impressive, Heather Engebretson as the Woodbird is delightfully loud, clear, agile and musical, a singer who like Stemme to Brünnhilde seems born to sing this role. All of Siegel (Mime), Lundgren (Wotan), Kränzle (Alberich), Sherratt (Fafner) and Lehmkuhl (Erda) go beyond their already superb performances in Rheingold.

The problems I have with the production are primarily quibbles. The roving fibreglass bovines in the woodland scene have a surreal creepiness surely lacking any basis in the music; the business Mime has to do with the rat’s head is a pain in the arse and very much de trop when you have as masterful a performer as Siegel; it’s maybe a bit nutty that Brünnhilde and Siegfried spend so much of their duet on opposite sides of the stage. But on the whole the important things are there, and the mise-en-scène even at its silliest reaches near a grandiosity just by the sheer and obvious effort that is required to pull the whole crazy thing off. Hats off to the stage team, the singers, the orchestra and Pappano – may it continue into Götterdämmerung.

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