Stefanos Lazaridis’ sets for this Ring cycle become ever more technologically ambitious and visually spectacular. The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House play with ever greater security, passion and effervescence, the violins sounding especially luminous here. At the work’s centre stand two contrasting performances, their performers linked by both name and respective vocal troubles.
Neither John Tomlinson nor John Treleaven seems fully at ease with their role, the former having to push against his fraying vocal top, the latter struggling with his intonation, many vowels hanging at the bottom of the note. Tomlinson overcomes his weakness by providing of the most complex, subtle and engrossingly elusive characterisations to be seen on a London stage this year, emphasising Wotan’s helpless, Lear-like struggle against both fate and the consequences of his own actions, watching in anguish as his spear is cruelly broken. Any vocal struggle matches the character’s decaying mind, body and sense of purpose.
In contrast, John Treleaven (though he does make a valiant effort to sing possibly the most demanding tenor role in the repertoire, uncovering a pleasingly ringing timbre in Act Three) characterises hazily.
Siegfried may be a nave boy, but here the character bumbles and jogs about the stage as though warming up for a cross country run. The vital moments seem underpowered – the forging of the sword, the murder of the dragon, the anticipatory, appetite-whetting rush offstage at Act Two’s conclusion; Siegfried’s psychologically complex relationship with Mime remains, here, unexplained. There’s no sense of Siegfried as either an arrogant buffoon or an innocent child, exploring the world for the first time. In the Preview Cycle, which I also attended, Treleaven’s tenor also seemed far more secure, and he is sure to regain his vocal form in the coming cycles.
If the central performance seems under-characterised, it is surrounded by interpretations of the highest order. Gerhard Siegel‘s bumbling, creeping Mime could hardly be bettered; Phillip Ens provides a resonant, sinister Fafner; Ailish Tynan‘s flitting, energetic Woodbird vocalises with breathless excitement. And Lisa Gasteen‘s Brünnhilde shakes the house in Act Three with her surprisingly secure top notes and attentive, shapely phrasing in the complex duet. All is underpinned by the luminous conducting of Antonio Pappano, who paces faultlessly and conjures the most airy and exotic textures in the final act to depict Siegfried’s arrival on the rock.
Keith Warner‘s production will divide opinion: the crashed aeroplane in Act One is a good idea, but there seems to be too much happening onstage; the barbed wire, train tracks, moving floor and mechanical animals of Act Two do create their own fantastical, albeit unnaturalistic, atmosphere, and the dragon is both imposing and comedic. In Act Three, Warner emphasises the onrush of fate: the endlessly spinning platform first traps Wotan, then thrusts the two lovers into a bleak, faceless box of domesticity midway through their duet. The direction often boasts cinematic qualities (in Act One, we see Siegfried grow on stage from baby to man), and arguably the most difficult opera of the quartet passes by in a flash.
Whether the curious, characterless hole at the centre of the performance will be filled in the coming cycles remains to be seen. Otherwise, this is a production that deserves to be and needs to be watched.