A brief account of the Melbourne Ring 2016
Wagner Down Under 2016Neil Armfield’s ‘minimalist’ production of The Ring, first mounted in 2013, has just been revived to great acclaim. As was the case three years ago, I attended the second of the three cycles, which was this time spread over the period 30 November to 7 December 2016. By almost universal agreement, there was a marked improvement over the 2013 version. Some tweaks to certain aspects of the production helped, though some irritations remained, such as the large send-off crowd for Siegfried setting off on his Rhine Journey. Familiarity with some other features bred, for me at least, more acceptance than contempt. This applied especially to the basic ‘performative’ concept which included show girl Rhine Daughters and a theatrical magician for the Alberich transformations. The enlarged video projection of the Fafner singer (the reliable Jud Arthur, also Hunding) applying his make up was again highly effective.
Conductor Pietari Inkenen had been thrown in at the deep end in 2013, and although he’d given a most creditable performance then, 2016 now found him much more assured, and the orchestra along with him. The brass were magnificent, but it’s actually a bit unfair to single them out because all sections turned up trumps and Inkenen and the orchestra as a whole were well deserving of the thunderous ovations they received. My only personal quibble would be with the prelude to Die Walküre which to my ear sounded, as indeed in 2013, somewhat pedestrian.
The standout performer in Das Rheingold was Warwick Fyfe as Alberich, repeating his triumph of 2013. He was indeed superb both musically and histrionically throughout the cycle. Kanen Breen, standing in for an indisposed Graeme Macfarlane, was a real hoot as Mime. The Rhine Daughters (Lorina Gore, Jane Ede, and Dominica Matthews) produced an excellent ensemble sound, as again in Götterdämmerung. James Johnson’s voice sounded a trifle frayed and lacking in warmth, and so he struggled a bit with the role of Wotan, though his interaction with Brünnhilde in the last act of Die Walküre was most moving, and he came into his own with an excellent performance as The Wanderer. Jacqueline Dark gave a strong account as Fricka, especially in Die Walküre. Amber Wagner sang with sensational richness as Sieglinde, but the interaction with Bradley Daley as Siegmund left something to be desired.
The first act of Siegfried was a highlight. Stefan Vinke was at his best here and was excellently supported by a recovered Graeme Macfarlane as Mime, and an improved James Johnson, as already mentioned. There was a real buzz at the interval, which wasn’t matched at the end of the second act, by which time the intensity had slackened. Vinke seemed to have reached his high point in act 1, although he did produce some fine singing together with the awakened Brünnhilde, and deserved his acclamation at the end. Lise Lindstrom was a real find as Brünnhilde. Her voice was clear as a bell with total ease at the top. In both Die Walküre and Siegfried I found myself admiring her singing objectively, rather than becoming emotionally involved, as there seemed to me to be a certain lack of warmth. However, in Götterdämmerung she was sensational and I was quite won over. Daniel Sumegi was an excellent Hagen (earlier Fasolt), and the often unrewarding roles of Gutrune and Gunther were given a real lift by Taryn Fiebig, and Luke Gabbedy in particular. The chorus, whose preparation had naturally been somewhat problematic, since the Melbourne singers had to rehearse in the initial stages separately from the core based in Sydney, was a tribute to chorus master Anthony Hunt.
In conclusion, this Ring was a resounding success, and full credit must go to all those involved. I went, with other New Zealanders (and of course Australians too!), as part of the Sydney-based Renaissance Tours group. Included in the tour, among other activities, were tickets to the wonderful introductory presentations by Heath Lees before each opera, and a most informative all-day seminar featuring talks, panel discussions, and interviews with cast and orchestra members, masterminded and hosted by the Wagnerian polymath Peter Bassett.