Opera review: Siegfried in Concert

The third opera in Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle stripped back to its musical core.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of attending Die Walküre (part two of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung) by Melbourne Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. I likened that production to a ‘glittering tempest’.

It would be unfair to compare that fully staged performance to this most recent offering of Siegfried In Concert, as this one lacks sets, costumes and lighting effects. But we can still focus on the musical prowess of the singers and orchestra, the virtuoso work of conductor Anthony Negus, and dramaturgy of director Suzanne Chaundy in bringing Siegfried to the stage as a concert. 

There are merits in paring back the production to its purely musical parts. This concert was able to boast the drawing power of highly credentialed musicians, a Wagner maestro conductor and the near-perfect acoustics of the Elizabeth Murdoch Hall.

Subtitles were very visible above the stage on a large screen, in the original (German) and in English, helping the audience follow along with the drama and the plot. Although a concert piece, Chaundy did a fine job bringing the characters to life, to almost satirical proportions.

Whether Wagner would have liked it or not, some audience members (myself included) could hardly stifle a giggle at the pantomime villain performance of Robert MacFarlane as the dwarf, Mime. Act II was really a dramatic highlight while we suspended our disbelief as Mime absent-mindedly divulged his plot to Siegfried, before they scuffled – though not quite managing to do so as there was no space on stage for that – to steal the dragon-guarded treasure.

There was a moment where the ‘dragon’ Fafner, performed sans costume by Steven Gallop, bellowed a maniacal laugh from a side stage door, amid the rising crescendo of the orchestra. It felt a lot like a very operatic game of charades. Gallop was magnificent in stature and mien as the miserly dragon. His voice was as commanding as his physicality. I wished he had a longer cameo. 

In contrast with these acting luminaries, Siegfried seemed wooden. Though wonderfully sung by Bradley Daley, Gallop and Macfarlane were hard dramatic acts to match up to. Clearly the comic nature of those characters were more fun to play with, and the physical limitations of not having space to interact physically made some of the drama feel staid in comparison.

That said, the lines ‘I’m glad to hear you hate me, but why lose my life to you as well’, were delivered with superbly smug bathos by Daley, before the (again comical due to the lack of physical room to stage it) stabbing of Mime. 

In Act III, Siegfried was led by the Woodbird, Rebecca Rashleigh, in glittering emerald with crystalline inflections. Siegfried’s fanfare-like leitmotif was played expertly by Evgeny Chebkykin on the French horn. The scene was set for him to find Brunnhilde in the woods and wake her romantically from her slumber. Lee Abrahmsen played her, singing aureate notes with all the smitten tones of first love, her golden hair shining triumphantly under the lights while this match in bucolic heaven was made.

The harps were played sublimely in this part, by Samantha Ramirez and Laura Tanata.

There were some awkward details and lyrics (as always with Wagner) that we are not spared, such as the fact that Brunnhilde is Siegfried’s aunt, and the macho swashbuckling while the female characters are dead from childbirth or in enchanted sleep, but a strength of Chaundy’s direction lies in bringing out the girl power of characters like Brunnhilde and the Wood Bird. Erda, performed by mezzo soprano Deborah Humble, was also breathtaking and strong.

Read: Concert Review: Beethoven, The Symphonies Concert 3

The piece was well-dramatised and staged within the confines of concert parameters and epic musically, thanks to these exceptionally talented musicians. It certainly whetted the appetite for the big bill event; the fully staged Ring Cycle in Bendigo next year. 

Siegfried in Concert, by Melbourne Opera 
Melbourne Recital Centre
Conductor: Anthony Negus
Cast: Warwick Fyfe, Lee Abrahmsen, Simon Meadows, Deborah Humble, Steven Gallop, Brad Daley,Robert Macfarlane

Siegfried in Concert was performed on 25 September 2022.

Leila Lois is a dancer and writer of Kurdish and Celtic heritage. Her poetry, essays and reviews have been published in Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada by Southerly Journal, LA Review of Books, Honey Literary Journal, Right Now, Delving Into Dance and more.