(Opera Australia, Melbourne, 5 December 2016) (Dir. Neil Armfield)
In this third spoke of the cycle, the plot becomes simple, but radical; in a sense, confined, more a matter of fairy-tale than myth. Siegfried goes from boy to man; with the newly forged hand-me-down sword, ‘Nothung’ he slays the gold-hoarding dragon, and when he sees that his guardian, Mime, has played him for a sucker, he deals with him too. Then, with newly-acquired powers of comprehension, he heads up the mountain to find the sleeping Brünnhilde.
During that ascent, he confronts on old fella (who turns out to be his grandfather). But Wotan, now disguised as ‘The Wanderer’, has consulted (and insulted) Erda, and must test the New Man, who is still something of an eternal infant. Unlike the intervention that caused him such mental anguish in Die Walküre, the clash shatter’s Wotan’s spear / wand of power, effectively relieving him of further responsibility for the World, and Siegfried continues to barge up the hill. There, he finally thinks to plant a kiss upon the girl’s lips, and the difficult and ultimately spectacular transition from godless power to yielding to love, comes about.
Siegfried has astonishing music. Act III in particular, is electrifying. Pietari Inkinen and his orchestra were once again in full command of the difficult score, with the pacing just right and exchanges with the action on stage impeccable. A few quibbles (of course) as to staging: For example, Mime’s modest hut / workshop don’t need the boy’s bedroom to be decked-out as a cross between Play School and the Brady residence. But let us leave that aside.
The cast were superb – Stefan Vinke as Siegfried in 2013 came across as a vaguely annoying youth rather than the callow, proto-hero held back by bad and deceitful parenting. Siegfried must be ignorant rather than merely stupid. In 2016, Vinke has ‘come of age.’ The complex motivations swirling around Siegfried’s simple soul are beautifully done, and his voice was sublime. Graeme Macfarlane’s Mime struck the right chord between comedy and malignity, dovetailing neatly with the brief re-appearance of Warwick Fyfe as the nasty Alberich. Also in walk-ons, James Johnson as the Wanderer and Liane Keegan as Erda were poignant and effective. Jud Arthur was appropriately vile, yet sympathetic, as Fafner (his make-up preparations in Act II before his death in combat constituted a particularly deft directorial touch).
Which brings us back to…Brünnhilde. Her awakening in the last Act, and realisation of all its implications, makes for a sustained psychological exploration for her and her rescuer that is so searing as to actually cause pain for the audience. We have left the land of myth and confront real human problems, but on a grand scale. Lisa Lindstrom was magnificent here, matched by Vinke. Whilst this piece lacked the coherence of Die Walküre, it still reached and strode the heights with confidence and feeling.