It is turning out to be a modest bicentenary for Verdi. For Wagner, the other operatic giant born in 1813, the anniversary already ranks as a golden year, to which this Siegfried makes a small but significant contribution. The disparity between Verdi and Wagner celebrations boils down to manpower. Good Verdi voices are in short supply, whereas reliable Wagner voices have suddenly become abundant. This does not mean every casting director is in luck, but Opera North has chosen wisely. There is not a weak link in Siegfried, and the fact that the production is billed as a “dramatic performance for the concert hall” does not mean it is devoid of visual interest.
Peter Mumford’s design and lighting concept involves three large screens above the orchestra, on to which are projected a series of poetic-naturalistic and abstract images that are sometimes cinematic, sometimes still – but always atmospheric, never distracting. Mumford encourages the singers to behave in character, without much moving around. There is no forge, no bear, no sword, no ring – and no holding of scores, the bane of opera-in-concert. The appeal is always to the audience’s imagination.
It’s an ideal way to get to know or re-acquaint yourself with The Ring, because the experience is rooted in the music, which tells the story almost as clearly as the surtitles. As such, Opera North’s touring, easy-to-digest Ring – unfolding at the rate of one opera per year and set to climax next summer with Götterdämmerung – is part of a fashion for anti-interpretation sweeping the Wagner world. The reasons may be partly financial, but it offers a welcome antidote to abstruse over-interpretation.
Richard Farnes conducts a beautifully prepared, lyrically contoured performance that shies away from dramatic extremes. Michael Druiett has matured into a majestic Wanderer of international quality. Jo Pohlheim’s powerful Alberich is equally impressive, while Richard Roberts (Mime), Ceri Williams (Erda), Mats Almgren (Fafner) and Fflur Wyn (Woodbird) make the most of their parts. Annalena Persson’s Brünnhilde sings with light radiance. Mati Turi makes a big, burly Siegfried, with a voice to match. Opera North’s audiences can count themselves lucky.
Wednesday’s performance will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3