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That isn''t Siegfried

12/10/2002 -  and 14 December 2001
Richard Wagner: Siegfried
John Graham-Hall (Mime), Stephen O'Mara (Siegfried), Robert Hayward (Wanderer), Andrew Shore (Alberich), Gerard O'Connor (Fafner), Alison Roddy (Woodbird), Patricia Bardon (Erda), Kathleen Broderick (Brünnhilde)

Orchestra of English National Opera

Paul Daniel (conductor)

George Bernard Shaw claimed that Wagner based the character of Siegfried on that of Mikhail Bakunin, the Russian anarchist -- Wagner and Bakunin were revolutionaries together on the barricades in Paris in 1848. Shaw was wrong, but it is amusing to superimpose the bumptious Bakunin of Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia on Wagner's character. Blown around by every new idea, incorrigibly unreliable and, as played by an increasingly hairy Douglas Henshall, utterly endearing, Stoppard's Bakunin is a tragi-comic blond beast who achieves nothing he sets out to do, but avoids the reflectiveness and despair of his fellow-travellers. The difference between Bakunin and Siegfried, though, is that Bakunin is an intellectual, and social and political animal, while Siegfried is another instance of the muscular adolescent hero, like Herakles, Samson and Achilles, who completely fails to engage with a world outside his ego. To be interesting, he has to exude limitless energy and curiosity without ever getting the point as conventional lesser mortals would see it. He must be a world in himself and force the real world to fit around him as best it can.

The ENO's concert performance of Siegfried at the Barbican had a Siegfried who slotted into a Siegfried-shaped hole in a magically invented world. Everything else was there: a twisted dwarf, a spooky forest, a luscious princess and the soaring ecstasy of first love. Paul Daniel and the orchestra were on almost as good form as for The Valkyrie last month, lucid and atmospheric without being naively pictorial; John Graham-Hall was a splendidly crotchety Mime, with just a touch of Albert Steptoe; Robert Hayward, although still a little furry in his natural persona, was increasingly authoritative and aware of tragedy as the Wanderer; Andrew Shore was truly scary as Alberich; Patricia Bardon as Erda was glamorously weary, while Alison Roddy was sweet but not cute as the Woodbird. Kathleen Broderick was a glorious, sexy Brühilde, a force of nature. Altogether, the music was embodied in plausible representatives of cosmic forces. Stephen O'Mara's Siegfried, alas, looked like a model from a seventies mail-order catalogue and sounded lacklustre. He sang almost all the notes, but was less than thrilling, milking the orchestra for momentum instead of riding above it.

Siegfrieds, unfortunately, don't grow on trees, and O'Mara is probably the ENO's intended casting. It is to be hoped that he will grow into the role, as did Pär Lindskog as Siegmund. He was uninspiring in the all-round clunky performance of The Valkyrie at the start of this year and stirringly dramatic in the superb recent one, though he still has room to develop in the role. Broderick's growth as Brühilde, the reliability of the ENO's usual suspects, notable in Rheingold with Tom Randle as Loge as well as Graham-Hall and Shore, and the orchestra's enormous progress under Daniel make the final cycle worth looking forward to.

These performances of the Ring are "semi-staged", performed kabuki-style, acted but delivered straight to the audience, in thrift-shop costume or modified concert dress. Jeremy Sams' idiomatic, musically aware translation, aids communication greatly. The characters are emerging, but relationships are not always developed. The most memorable interaction so far has probably been the squabble between Alberich and Mime in Rheingold; the pairs of lovers didn't get to gaze into each other's eyes. It is clear that the music is going somewhere. It will be interesting to see how the Ring as a whole turns out at the ENO in 2004.

HE Elsom



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