Pietari Inkinen
The Melbourne Ring Orchestra
11 December 2013
State Theatre Arts Centre Melbourne
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedStefan Vinke
MimeGraeme MacFarlane
WotanTerje Stensvold
AlberichWarwick Fyfe
FafnerJud Arthur
ErdaDeborah Humble
BrünnhildeSusan Bullock
WaldvogelTaryn Fiebig

Behind the Curtain

Thank you to Opera Australia and director Neil Armfield for bringing out the humour in Wagner! Siegfried, in many ways an inherently comic opera (oafish superhero raised by scheming dwarf), was given in this reading some vaudevillian touches highlighting its epic span, making for a thoroughly entertaining, as well as moving, evening.

Armfield continues with his concept established in the previous two operas of the Ring, that the story is a human one, set in something like the present. (That being said, he does allow room for the inexplicable, the inconsistent, and the purely poetic). Mime (sung by a sympathetic Graeme Macfarlane) is not a disfigured dwarf, but merely an addled, rather gentle bachelor, who microwaves his meals. He and his terror of an adopted son live in what appears to be an abandoned old vaudeville stage or movie theatre. In these cramped, sad quarters, redolent of faded glamour, we sense young Siegfried’s stunted existence: too big for his bunk bed, longing to fight in battles but stuck playing with action figures.

Stefan Vinke was a remarkable Siegfried, bursting with so much brute energy that even the lengthy sword-forging scene was thrilling, buoyed by his pure, unreflective exuberance. Much of his singing was a version of hollering, but such is the nature of the Heldentenor Fach, and his voice made it to the finish line regardless.

Terje Stensvold astonished yet again, as “The Wanderer” (as did his bare, heaving barrel-chest beneath his tattered fur coat; watching him was like a strangely sexy voice lesson). Portrayed as an increasingly beleaguered business tycoon in the previous two operas, in the long-haired Wanderer we saw a liberated, post-breakdown Wotan become a kind of hippie philosopher, à la “the Dude” in The Big Lebowski.

His scene with Erda was riveting, as the elderly matriarch of Rheingold was revealed to have become an even older, crumpled wraith in a wheelchair (bravo to the director for the genius ventriloquistic device he employed here).

Although the enviromental messages in Armfield’s Melbourne Ring are not hammered home, they are effectively dotted throughout in such disturbing and poignant images as this invalid Mother Earth, or in the sleeping Brünnhilde, enclosed and displayed like one of Wotan’s taxidermied treasures. Seeing the former goddess strapped into a museum transport crate like his specimen of the lost Tasmanian Tiger, we are forced to confront the true tragedy of extinction.

Warwick Fyfe delighted again as Alberich, earning many chuckles from the audience with his slovenly manner and slapstick timing. Jud Arthur elicited a perfect liquid snarl as Fafner, here transformed by the ring’s power (and the Tarnhelm?) not into a dragon but into a screen actor, a masked and monstrous Pierrot. Taryn Fiebig had a star turn as the Forest Bird (interpreted as a Reese-Witherspoon-like fantasy girlfriend of Siegfried’s: cheery, supportive, and blonde), with an investment in character and text – not to mention powerful vocalism – rarely seen in this role.

She leads him to Brünnhilde’s ring of fire, gorgeously represented as a shimmering golden curtain cascading down. The vaudeville proscenium arch that has revolved periodically throughout the show, confusing our sense of what is onstage or off, projection or reality, rotates one last time as Siegfried passes through its “flames” and into a realm of uncanny stillness. The effect was like that of a David Lynch dream sequence, surreal and spellbinding.

Brünnhilde’s awakening, and her new embodiment as a mortal woman, were sensually depicted by Susan Bullock. The virago of Walküre had gone from tomboy to bombshell (as certain women do), and the softness and wariness she brought to her new self were touching indeed, as was Siegfried’s cautious wonder.

Like all good comedies, Siegfried has a heart that wallops you at the end. Be afraid; be very afraid.

Bottom line: laughter through tears.

Evelyn Winthrop | 22nd November, 2013

The Guardian

Three quarters of the way through the Melbourne Ring, and the rationale of Neil Armfield’s production gets no clearer. Through most of Siegfried, in fact, there seem to be at least three different approaches intertwined; all of them introduced at various points in Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, but with no suggestion that they might fuse into a dramatic unity.

There is the reductive naturalism of the first act, which translates the action into contemporary stereotypes and commonplaces without any sense of a mythic dimension – Stefan Vinke’s Struwelpeter-haired, rugby-shirted Siegfried in a scruffy teenager’s bedroom, while Mime (Graeme Macfarlane) heats up meals in a microwave, and attempts to forge swords on the kitchen table. The following acts then hark back to Rheingold’s post-modern flirtations with music hall.

Not dancing girls this time but video close-ups of Jud Arthur’s Fafner making up his face as a clown for his encounter with Siegfried, only to emerge from his lair naked and bloodied after his fatal wounding, and a false proscenium complete with gold lamé curtain through which Siegfried must pass to discover the sleeping Brünnhilde. She is now confined to one of the display cases in which Wotan kept his animals in Rheingold, with her horse Grane as a stuffed model close by, though the allegorical significance of those allusions still escapes me.

If it was all more vividly theatrical, then the disjunctions and the puzzles might not matter. But what seemed fresh in Rheingold, now seems just laboured, and nothing in the conducting or the individual performances, despite the energy of some of them, provides enough of that missing ingredient.

Vinke is a robust Heldentenor, tireless if not very subtle, who more than holds his own with Susan Bullock’s rather tremulous Brünnhilde and goes at the forging scene with great purpose, only to have it undermined by Pietari Inkinen’s persistently slow tempi; the conductor is still apparently more concerned with clarity than with sustaining dramatic momentum. But Terje Stensvold seems more convincing, more vocally assertive as the Wanderer than he was as Wotan, despite being got up like a superannuated member of a heavy metal band with long grey hair, bare chest and shades. His confrontations, first with Warwick Fyfe’s still raging Alberich, then with Deborah Humble’s wheelchair-bound Erda, have an intensity that only emphasises the lack of anything like it elsewhere.

Andrew Clements | 25 Nov 2013

Sydney Morning Herald

Opera Australia’s Ring cycle forges ahead with a heroic amount of singing

A teenager’s bedroom and an untidy workshop cramped within a plastered theatrical proscenium arch constructed inside the stage perimeter provided the cluttered space for Siegfried and Mime to irritate each other and enact their dysfunctional relationship for Act 1 of Siegfried.

Mime jiggled tea bags and warmed food in the microwave while Siegfried sulked on his bunk painting animal pictures. By the close of the act Stefan Vinke, as Siegfried, had not only forged the sword on a small barbecue constructed for the purpose – every home should have one – but, after an hour and a quarter of singing, swung the broad phrases of the forging song with thrilling ease.

Despite the wonderful robustness of sound, there was a sense that Vinke was pacing himself, as well he might. A further four hours later he had ample voice to expand the tone and volume to convince Brunhilde by the splendour of his top A flat that he was her sort of hero. This was an outstanding feat of vocal stamina. Graeme Macfarlane gave Mime’s whining lines clarity and focus, underscored by transparent balanced textures from the orchestra under Pietari Inkinen.

The proscenium arch is a repeated motif in Robert Cousins’ set, becoming a symbol of Siegfried’s transgression, which in turn parallels Wagner’s own transformation of theatrical convention as he was writing the work.

At the close of Act 1, instead of splitting the anvil Siegfried slashes the plaster wall creating a gaping hole, which becomes the dragon’s lair of Act 2. Dragon slain, Siegfried and the wood-bird escape through it, frolicking in the theatre lights which glow at the mention of fire.

In the last act a dazzling golden curtain becomes the ring of fire that Siegfried must puncture to find Brunhilde. It was while writing the third act that Wagner settled on Bayreuth as the site for a purpose-built theatre for the Ring.

In director Neil Armfield’s vision, everything in Siegfried happens in a transgressive theatre of the imagination. Robert Donington, in his classic Jungian study, sees the slaying of the dragon Fafner as Siegfried vanquishing the negative feminine and over-strong mother attachment. But equally, Fafner, sitting joylessly with the ring in his cave, represents the end point of Alberich’s rape of nature by renouncing love, and Wotan’s self-defeating bargains.

Slaying the dragon begins the ring’s restoration to love, via Siegfried and Brunhilde’s consummation, and to nature. Jud Arthur’s poignant entry from the cave as the mortally wounded Fafner, bloodied and completely naked, gave this moment touching humanity as he warns the repentant Siegfried of the ring’s power.

In the next great turning point, Terje Stensvold as Wotan visits earth-goddess Erda, appearing frail and wheelchair-bound, mouthing words sung with dark expressiveness by Deborah Humble. In this scene and in the crucial following one, when Siegfried breaks the staff on which Wotan’s ensnaring contracts are inscribed, Stensvold opened out with valedictory magnificence, rounding off Wotan’s journey with resonant nobility.

Meanwhile, on her rock, Brunhilde is cocooned in shrink-wrapped plastic in one of the crates from Valhalla’s extinct species exhibit two operas ago. Susan Bullock drew out the rich emotional tension between the death of Brunhilde’s godhead and her surging mortal sexuality while maintaining solidity and expressive intensity in the sound. Vinke sang with such libidinal exultation, one thought he wanted to do it all again.

Peter McCallum | 25 November 2013

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 548 MByte (MP3)
Broadcast (ABC Classic)
A production by Neil Armfield (2013)
This recording is part of a complete Ring.