The abundant musical and artistic quality impresses again as Melbourne Opera presents Siegfried, third instalment in their mighty Bendigo Ring Cycle.
Seen last September in concert, Siegfried comes to rich dramatic life in its fully staged production. Led by sturdy heldentenor Bradley Daley in the title role, the opera begins gradually with domestic drama before surging on to dragon slaying, a helpful singing bird, and the romantic rescue of Brünnhilde.
For this six-hour session, the Ulumbarra Theatre rises to the occasion, with champagne corks popping and bratwurst sausages sizzling during two extended intervals, the first a generous 60 minutes and the second longer again at 75 minutes. Comfy bench seats, and capacious indoor and outdoor spaces all mingle harmoniously against the historic setting of the original Sandhurst Gaol.
At this point of the Cycle, maestro Anthony Negus is greeted with the warmest possible applause before even a note of music is played. The Melbourne Opera Orchestra continues in fine form, with a visual highlight being four harps, a pair on each side of the stage apron. Percussion is a feature of Wagner’s music in act one, with Daley adding to the crisp clanging on stage as Siegfried re-forges his treasured sword Nothung. Act two brings some lighthearted solos when oboe and then French horn represent Siegfried’s attempts at making music. A highlight of act three is the gorgeous musical interlude as Brünnhilde reawakens.
Director Suzanne Chaundy maximises the conflict in the characters, not shying from the unpleasant features of the restless, childlike Siegfried and his long-suffering, if totally self-serving, guardian Mime. Likewise, avaricious giant Fafner and poisonous dwarf Alberich are seen for the self righteous villains they are.
The chance to see the staging for Siegfried has been eagerly awaited and the dark details and multiple coups de theatre of Andrew Bailey’s set design do not disappoint. Sitting beneath the hinged stage floor, Mime’s home is richly detailed, with spaces for the smithing of swords (live fire and all) and the broiling of soups and potions. A metal staircase comes through the open overhead ring, allowing a grand entrance or exit to accompany the various leitmotifs.
Act two begins in the subterranean where Fafner is stockpiling his gold (very relevant given the Bendigo setting) before the floor hinges down and the forest is cleverly represented by a multitude of vertical strips of white fabric streaked with black. Upstage, video design by Chris Hocking shows the dragon asleep, moving on to eye-catching animation when the mighty beast awakens.
Act three moves between the underground, where The Wanderer summons earth goddess Erda, and the rocky circle of fire where Brünnhilde awaits her heroic rescue. Filled by a beaming sun when Brünnhilde awakens, the backdrop transitions to a golden sunset as Brünnhilde ultimately succumbs to the love of a mortal man.
Lighting designer Rob Sowinski achieves very effective results with deliberately slow increases in light for each new scene. Underground scenes are highly atmospheric and yet singers remain clearly seen.
Harriet Oxley provides further characterful costumes, capably and creatively supporting Chaundy’s vision for a traditional staging tending more towards the realistic than the fantastical. Highlights of Siegfried include the verdant green dress for the Woodbird and Erda’s white and grey fine crystal gown.
Daley’s heldentenor rings out true and clear, and he throws himself into the portrayal of impetuous, short-tempered, and ultimately heroic youth Siegfried. In line with Chaundy’s focus on the humanity of the characters, Daley strengthens the audience’s bond with Siegfried when he sits on the edge of the stage and exudes touching candour as he shares his deep wish to have known his parents. This humanist approach continues when Siegfried slays the dragon; the reason he comes to have dragon’s blood on his fingers is because of he showed tenderness and compassion towards the dying beast.
With a waddling walk, Robert Macfarlane conjures up the duplicitous dwarf Mime, managing to draw a degree of sympathy for the hapless guardian. Macfarlane sings the quirky role with ample expression, although his vocals tend to be overpowered by the orchestra, with more volume needed at times.
Warwick Fyfe continues in potent form, delivering the richest of vocal performance each time “The Wanderer” appears. To hear Fyfe in the role is to hear a singer in complete control of his talents, with his performance in act each calibrated to allow for additional power at climactic moments.
Simon Meadows treats the audience to his powerhouse performance as insidious dwarf Alberich. Unafraid to appear truly creepy, Meadows immerses himself in the role, singing with splendid power.
Steven Gallop ably demonstrates the old adage that there are no small roles. His death scene as the slain dragon is immediately affecting, with aching vulnerability ringing out with every note.
In an interesting contrast, Gallop voices the animated dragon from offstage whereas Rebecca Rashleigh as the Woodbird appears onstage in the form of a forest maiden. The first female voice to be heard at this point of the long performance, Rashleigh’s crystalline soprano is a welcome delight.
“That’s not a man!” That’s Antoinette Halloran. Woken by Siegfried without a trace of bed hair, Halloran proceeds to steal the show, taking Brünnhilde on a compelling three act journey (in a single scene) as the warrior maiden moves from joy at being rescued, to turmoil at loving a mortal and losing her powers, before giving herself over to love for Siegfried. Through it all Halloran sings with ringing strength and beauty.
Making maximum impact with a single scene, Deborah Humble displays exceptional control of the dramatic shades of her sumptuous mezzo soprano. While Humble’s voice alone commands attention, her stylised physical performance as Erda adds extra presence to her all-too-brief appearance.
Another memorable entry in the Bendigo Ring Cycle, Siegfried leaves the audience keen for the ensuing climax on Sunday. The consistent quality thus far generates complete confidence that the fourth opera will be another musical and creative success.
The Ring Cycle plays at Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo on select dates in March and April 2023.
For tickets to The Ring Cycle, click here.
The Ring Cycle casting can be read online.
For details of the Ring Cycle Festival, click here.
To download the program to the Ring Cycle Festival, click here.
The Ring Cycle is streamed on Australian Digital Concert Hall.
In the 2023 Bendigo Ring Cycle, Man in Chair has reviewed:
Photos: Robin Halls