Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Siegfried review – Bradley Daley conquers the largest of sings at Longborough Festival Opera

20, 28 June, 7 July 2024

The second half of Der Ring des Nibelungen opens in suitably strong style.


Adrian Dwyer & Paul Carey Jones (Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis)

If Die Walküre was definitely the unknown quantity in Longborough Festival Opera’s 2024 Ring Cycle, as the production had not been seen before, Siegfried lies at the opposite end of the spectrum. It was seen here in 2022, directed like the entire tetralogy by Amy Lane, and this time seven of the eight cast members are the same. If this boded well, as the line up proved so strong two years ago, in the event everyone equals or betters how they performed before.

In Das Rheingold Rhiannon Newman Brown’s set comprised a semicircle that was raised at the back and sloped down to the ground on either side via a series of steps. In Die Walküre this was split in two, and it is again here only the resulting blocks are positioned differently. They are placed so that they almost meet in the middle, but still leave a gap that could be interpreted as being either large or small. As some of Wotan’s encounter with Alberich sees each perched on one of the two blocks, we could view the gap between conditional and unconditional power as being immense, or see the two characters as being only a breath away from each other. The ambiguous size of the gap would also relate to exactly what it takes to achieve the transition from the old world order to the new. When Siegfried finally arrives on Brünnhilde’s rock he is led there by The Woodbird on one side as Wotan (who has already had his spear broken by this point) leads Brünnhilde onto the other, thus revealing who has been involved in getting the pair to this point, and who is giving them the opportunity to ‘join’ from here. 

Other props are introduced, and in Act I these reveal Mime’s cluttered dwelling. By having all of his metalworking equipment on one side of the stage and all his kitchen utensils on the other, his profession as a skilled forger is contrasted with his ‘domestic’ role in raising Siegfried. This works especially well when Siegfried forges Nothung as with him melting the broken sword over real fire to the left, and Mime fiddling with ingredients to make his brew in the centre, we gain a keen sense of the different ways in which each feels triumphant at the thought he is on the verge of achieving his goal. It is also a nice touch for Mime to imitate Siegfried’s rhythms in his striking of the anvil with his own herb chopping.

Adrian Dwyer’s movements, gestures and comic timing make him an extremely accomplished Mime. He applies just enough ‘pinch’ to his tone to capture the dwarf’s scheming and malevolent nature, but overall lets his light but warm tenor shine through, which helps him to come across as less of a caricature than is commonly seen. Dwyer’s Act I encounter with Paul Carey Jones’ Wanderer is highly compelling as the latter is also on top form. His bass-baritone feels direct enough to let its power speak for itself, but there are enough nuances in his sound to capture the multifaceted nature of the character. He emphasises Wotan’s mischievous side in his game of questions with Mime by giving him a fair chance to elicit the information he needs, while knowing, it would seem, that the dwarf will not take it. Nevertheless, this does not stop him from becoming frustrated at Mime asking such useless questions, as revealed by his exasperated sighs. He similarly skips a little as he moves to wake Fafner, as here he is offering Alberich an opportunity that once again he must know will not materialise. On the other hand, his meeting with Erda (a brilliant Mae Heydorn) could not feel more serious as he stands on a rock with his spear, and she appears behind him clutching a staff around which the ropes of fate are twined.

“…everyone equals or betters how they performed before”


Lee Bisset (Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis)

As Alberich, Mark Stone’s baritone is so overwhelming and commanding that his performance would be an asset to any production in any major opera house in the world. Stone also captures the all embracing nature of Alberich’s obsession, and in Act II the fact that he has been camped outside Fafner’s cave for years is illustrated by the presence of a makeshift tent. Interestingly, when Mime arrives at the cave he sees this, thus alerting him to the nature of the competition he faces for the ring. With his deep, dark bass Simon Wilding is an excellent Fafner, who reveals quite profound understanding of how Siegfried was not responsible for bringing himself to the point whereby he should kill the giant.

Die Walküre revealed a book that seemed to contain Wotan’s grand plan, and by the end of the opera it had ended up with Sieglinde. Thus, by the time Siegfried starts it is with Mime in whose company she died. This adds several dimensions to the drama as it makes it harder for the dwarf to pretend that he never got to note down Siegfried’s mother’s name. Throughout Walküre characters ripped pages from the book when they were unwilling to do what it prescribed, and people’s altering of events continues in Siegfried. In fact, even as Wotan revels in describing his own power and glory as he answers Mime’s third question, he rips out his own image from the book to show how he is no longer the vital component. 

He ensures that The Woodbird (an engaging Fflur Wyn) has the book in Act II, so that the bird becomes something of a ‘reverse ornithologist’ in seeking out the human, and making notes as she observes and tries to influence Siegfried. The idea generally works well, although there is one difficulty. It would seem that The Woodbird is normally able to tell Siegfried to take the ring and the tarnhelm, and about Brünnhilde on the rock, for the simple reason that nature knows best. That, however, would seem to be at odds with the idea that she has been given the information she passes on from Wotan, unless we see the chief god’s whole approach as constituting his own return to nature.

As Siegfried, Bradley Daley’s tenor is strong and consistent across all registers, and he paces his voice extremely well to meet this most challenging of sings. Siegfried is often seen as a very unlikeable character, but thanks to Daley and Dwyer (for making Mime feel so ‘real’) we can see how, having being brought up as he has been, it would be impossible for him to have ended up any other way. He also comes across as a sensitive character during the ‘Forest Murmurs’, which feel particularly reflective, and as a total innocent when he gives the most bemused expression before crying ‘Das ist kein Mann!’. In the final scene, he and Lee Bisset’s outstanding Brünnhilde capture the total sense of joy that the pair feel on initially finding each other before the mood becomes more serious. 

The entire Cycle is accompanied by Tim Baxter’s video designs, and on this occasion they broadly portray a Romantic landscape in Act I, the setting for Fafner’s cave in Act II and rugged rocks in Act III. The Longborough Festival Opera Orchestra, conducted by Anthony Negus, is superb throughout, and particularly excels in Act III. There was a twelve year gap between Wagner writing Acts II and III of Siegfried in which his style developed greatly, and so the fact that the players really seem to find an affinity with the sound world of the later parts of the Ring makes the final instalment, Götterdämmerung, an extremely enticing prospect. 

• Longborough Festival Opera is presenting one further Cycle between 4 and 9 July, two additional performances of Die Walküre on 12 and 14 July, and La bohème between 27 July and 6 August. 

• For full details of all events and tickets visit the LFO website.

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