Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Prom 3: Wagner – Siegfried @ Royal Albert Hall, London

16 July 2006

After Simon Rattle’s fresh period-instrument account of Das Rheingold in 2004 and last year’s starry Die Walküre, it was back to a solid and conventional approach for part three of the Proms Ring Cycle, Siegfried.

Christoph Eschenbach reassembled most of the cast of his Paris Ring from this year, plus the Orchestre de Paris, and led them through a secure, warm, and engaging performance of the work, even if no new light was particularly shed on it.

I was pleasantly surprised, though, that Eschenbach managed to take on the most problematic of the four operas in the cycle and bring out such detail. After the first interval especially, the orchestral outbursts between the scenes punctuated the drama most thrillingly, with the strings’ vibrato opening up more and the brass letting rip with excitement. The little details that characterise this conductor’s style were there from the start, of course a sense of voice-leading and texture in particular but it was the genuine emotional impact of Eschenbach’s reading that made it special.

After the pains of John Treleaven in the Covent Garden Ring, it was a pleasure to hear so supple a performance as Jon Frederic West gave us in this prom. Few tenors make it through almost the entire six hours on stage without flagging, but West made it to the finishing line with vocal reserves to spare. He had the ideal ringing tone for the Forging songs and he put huge energy into the ardently-sung final duet with his beloved Brünnhilde.

The latter was sung by Olga Sergeeva, in her Proms debut (as was West). Admittedly her appearance in the opera is only brief, but although the notes are all in place no mean feat her interpretation feels like something of a work in progress.

Evgeny Nikitin was the sturdy Wanderer (Wotan in disguise). Here is a voice to follow, for he is a singer of both lyric beauty and solid projection. In sharp contrast to John Tomlinson’s account at Covent Garden last year, Nikitin’s chief god seems like he’s still a dangerous character, virile and strong. He also made more of the element of ‘encounter’ that runs through the opera: whether with Siegfried or Alberich or Mime, Nikitin engaged with the characters he was singing with, causing a dramatic spark.

Volker Vogel‘s Mime was underpowered at first, and vocally a little bland, but he made up for it with inspired acting. His brother Alberich was sung by the Russian baritone Sergei Leiferkus, still in superb voice and making much of a complex character.

Qiu Lin Zhang‘s Erda was extraordinary, in that she conjured up a deep, truly earthy sound as the earth-goddess. Natalie Karl eventually warmed up to secure all the Woodbird’s top notes, and Mikhail Petrenko was a chilling Fafner.

In all, it was an effective performance, and it was sad to see so many empty seats left for such an event of a concert.

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