The Proms Wagner Ring continued with Siegfried, Prom 18. Tonight, Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin were as one, united. Much has been written about the confrontation at Die Walküre Prom 15. Although I was sitting concert master side near the podium I didn't witness it because I was dashing out to beat the queue at the bar, desperate for ice and tonic. In any case, so what? Performers are intense. They put so much of themselves into what they do that they overreact. They're human. We shouldn't be judgemental. Perhaps the altercation concentrated everyone's minds. This was a vivid, muscular performance, vindicating orchestra and conductor.
The rumbling mumurs that begin the opera gave way to purposeful forward thrust. Suggestions of Fafner's slithering form coloured the lower winds and brasses. Barenboim's Ring with the Staatskapelle Berlin is atmospheric, creating the twisted undergrowth that informs the whole saga. It's not "glamorous" like the Met Ring, but sinewy and intelligent. The Staatskapelle play with natural grace and sensuality, carrying off Barenboim's fast paced tempi with complete assurance. Exquisitely beautiful details and solo playing. Götterdämmerung will give this orchestra even more to show their style.
Peter Bronder's Mime crackled with manic energy. The role is far more difficult to sing than many realize. Mime's mind twists, constantly plotting, manipulating and slithering out of traps. Thus Wagner compresses many complex nuances into short, spiky outbursts, which a singer must negotiate with slippery finesse. Fafner slithers because he's a reptile, but he doesn't have Mime's malevolence. Bronder's voice negotiates the tricky, slippery turns and spits sharp siblilants the way a snake might flash its forked tongue. High notes suggest hysteria, low notes drip with poison. Absolute precision is essential. As Mime knows, there's no margin for error. Bronder is at his best when challenged by Alberich and the Wanderer. Until the very end, Siegfried is no match for his wiles. Bronder's clear bright tone suggests unnatural light, the opposite of the healthy sunshine which will wake Brünnhilde. Although born in Hertfordshire, Bronder is a native German speaker and has spent most of his career in German-speaking countries. True character tenors are in short supply. We need more Bronder in this country.
Lance Ryan sang Siegfried with the Staatskapelle earlier this year. His is a serviceable voice that lends itself to a wide repertoire. It's not distinctive but thankfully isn't saccharine, Met style, thank goodness. Ryan creates vibrato by extending vowels, suggesting effort rather than natural control. His top is pinched and there's not much colour. But a voice doesn't need to be beautiful to work well in drama. Witness Simon O'Neill's perceptive Siegmund, exuding character and personality. But who is Ryan's Siegfried? Siegfried is an emotional blank canvas because he hasn't learned fear, or much else about life, for that matter. His first experiments with the horn are tentative and distorted, as he's still learning. But it's strange to hear the horn player growing ever more fluent and expressive while the singer doesn't keep pace. Ryan is straightforward, but there's more to Siegfried than being reliable.
In this Ring, Barenboim uses different singers for each incarnation of Wotan. Terje Stensvold's Wanderer is Wotan in old age. aware that the future is no longer in his hands. Stensvold paces the part to suggest that the Wanderer is slowing, running to ground. It doesn't matter that his vowels shade towards Norwegian. Wotan isn't German, but an offshoot from Nordic tradition. It's enough that Stensvold has presence and gravitas. Erda is older than Time itself, the only figure who can treat Wotan like a child. Anna Larsson's Erda was gloriously resonant: she sounds youthful and full of life. Erda may be ancient, but Larsson shows she will be more enduring than Wotan because she connects to the pure source of moral values he has polluted.
Johannes Martin Kränzle sang a convincing Alberich, well characterized and detailed, a fitting counter to Broder's Mime. Eric Halfvarson a suitably eloquent Fafner. Rinnat Moriah sang the Wood Bird. But everyone was waiting for Nina Stemme. The softness in her delivery was impressive, for she portrayed Brünnhilde as vulnerable and feminine. She's about to become mortal. Later she will find her Valkyrie soul again, but for the moment, Stemme showed her as woman. The tessitura lies very high for her fach, but Stemme approaches it with dream-like lyricism. "Heil dir, Sonne!" she sang, "Heil dir, Licht", as if she were drinking in the life-giving, healing properties of Nature. Stemme is fairly new to Brünnhilde, though Ryan has done Siegfried many times. Yet this Brünnhilde left Siegfried far behind. I thought about the message of renewal in this opera, and of the dawning of a new era, where the values oif Valhalla will be swept away. Brünnhilde is the true hero of the whole Ring. I can hardly wait for Sunday, Götterdämmerung, Prom 20..
But see HERE = Bayreuth Siegfried Lance Ryan redeemed two days later !
My review of the Proms Die Walküre is HERE You might also enjoy Fritz (Metropolis) Lang's Ring of the Nibelungs (1924 film) HERE, with video !