By Ross Whitelaw
This was a production I had been looking forward to ever since learning about it from Juliana Lim of the Singapore Wagner Society whilst attending Bayreuth in 2018. One of the joys of attending Bayreuth is meeting fellow Wagnerians from other parts of the world and I was especially interested in meeting a contingent from Singapore since it is the closest Society to Australia and offers new perspectives on the performance md appreciation of Wagner’s operas.
Another reason to look forward to it was the news that Warwick Fyfe should be performing his first Wotan and many of the others in the cast were from Australia. I was not disappointed.
I had arranged to meet my friend, John Dalgleish from Edinburgh, whom I met in Bayreuth in 2008 and is a member of the London and Victorian Societies. He would then come back to Australia with me and enjoy nine weeks of Aussie sea and sun. I also arranged to meet with my friends from the Victorian Society of whom there was a sizeable contingent. The shared interest in the works of Wagner led to much discussion and reinforced the friendships I had made over the year - a mutual love of his music.
Now for the performance. I was informed that the orchestra, the Orchestra of the Music Makers (seemingly none over 30), were made up of 30% professionals and 70% music enthusiasts! Quite remarkable when you think about it.
The enthusiasts were amateurs whose parents thought they should pursue “real jobs” but whose passion for music couldn’t be surpassed They were fantastic and didn’t miss a beat (literally) under the more than competent guidance of Chan Tie Law, music director of Singapore Metropolitan Festival Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Music Makers.
Being a semi-staged performance, there were limitations, mostly relating to the positioning of the orchestra and singers as arranged around the “sets”, a long table in front of the orchestra on which the singers variously walked, sat at or walked around for the first act and a “mountain” behind the orchestra approached from stairs on either side of the stage. This resulted in the singers singing to each other across the orchestra from left to right or from the mountain behind the orchestra to the front of the stage. Not ideal but not a bad effort on the part of the director, Edith Podesta.
There were projections of the singers on a screen at the rear of the stage. This projection also carried the subtitles and it was difficult to look at the subtitles without also seeing the enlarged faces of the singers. Should we look at them or the live singers on stage? Unlike the projections in say the Castorf Ring, where the back story was being told to great effect, this was a distraction.
The much anticipated Wotan of Fyfe did not disappoint. Clear, powerful and yet nuanced, his Wotan will only improve over time. Whilst he inhabited Alberich in the Melbourne Rings from his first appearance, I feel that he will grow into this role and become eval better over time. I sincerely hope that he is able to build on this performance. The result will be one of the greatest Wotans of our age. American tenor Bryan Register as Sigmund thrilled the audience with a sure and expressive interpretation. I’d not heard of him before this and was very impressed. If you get a chance to hear him, do so. Lee Bisset, a native of Scotland was a sympathetic Sieglinde. Beautifully sung and undoubtedly a rising Wagnerian star. The Brunnhilde of Lancashire born Alwyn Mellor was less sure, at least initially, but she warmed to the task, and the scenes with Wotan were by turns moving and assertive. Another to watch for, Caitlin Hulcup, making her role debut as Fricka, nearly stole the show. An Australian with quite a career overseas, she impressed with stage presence, beauty of tone and clarity of purpose. Watch for her as Medea in Pinchgut Opera’s upcoming 2020 season - I’ll be there! The Valkyrie themselves were made up of a capable line up including familiar names from the Australian opera scene - Taryn Fiebig, Antoinette Halloran, Sharon Prero, Dominica Matthews, Fiona Campbell and Cassandra Seidemann.
Altogether a worthwhile tip. A Singapore Rhinegold may even be on the horizon.