Siegfried, English National Opera, Coliseum, London

Six-pack superhero stars in a rousing adaptation of Wagner
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The Independent Culture

Our last sighting of the rebellious valkyrie Brunnhilde was at Glastonbury, a ring of fire between her and the clutches of licentious rockers. The arrival of her superhero - the one, the only one, to brave the flames and release her from eternal sleep - has come not a minute too soon. And he's been worth the wait for us, too.

Our last sighting of the rebellious valkyrie Brunnhilde was at Glastonbury, a ring of fire between her and the clutches of licentious rockers. The arrival of her superhero - the one, the only one, to brave the flames and release her from eternal sleep - has come not a minute too soon. And he's been worth the wait for us, too.

This, the penultimate phase of Phyllida Lloyd's injustly maligned staging of Wagner's Ring is an almost complete triumph, clarifying and advancing many of the ideas that have thus far made it as contentious as it is penetrating. The musical values are high, the drama is riveting, the consequences thought-provoking. If this is English National Opera in the doldrums, then I can't wait for the recovery.

Let's start with he whose name adorns the billboards - Siegfried. The genius of Wagner fashions him as an innocent, a child of nature, untouched by responsibility, unknowing of fear or the distinction between right and wrong. His guardian is the wily Nibelung dwarf Mime, his objective - to rear him as a killing machine and carry off the ring from giant turned dragon, Fafner.

Enter, then, Richard Berkeley-Steele (Siegfried) and John Graham-Hall (Mime), an unholy kind of Steptoe and Son alliance played out in a squalid squat of a dwelling designed by Richard Hudson. Myth duly collides with grubby contemporary truths, as indeed it must if Wagner's ideas are to continue to challenge and to resonate.

So Siegfried is the troublesome teenager - shaggy haired and unwashed, sloppy, demanding, baseball cap, personal stereo, six-pack, and super-sized snacks always at hand. But where to find a singing actor with the physical and vocal attributes, to say nothing of the stamina, required to make flesh of the idea?

In your dreams, you might have said, until English National Opera found Richard Berkeley-Steele. What a find. It's an astonishingly fresh and brave and charismatic performance. A complete knockout. He's the rangy puppy turned Superman in the super-cool sword-forging scene (all steam and strobe light) and he's still there fizzing with energy when he and Kathleen Broderick's believably svelte and sexy Brunnhilde get it on nearly five hours later.

It was a good night for the words, too. Berkeley-Steele and Graham-Hall project the text (in Jeremy Sams vivid, if sometimes wilful, translation) with lethal clarity, Graham-Hall totally suspending disbelief that a dwarf somehow resides in his six-foot-plus frame.

There is but one miscalculation in act two where Mime goads Siegfried with hateful threats and Graham-Hall's sneers undercut Wagner's joke that Siegfried is too thick to appreciate that true aggression sometimes comes with a smile. But otherwise Phyllida Lloyd doesn't put a foot wrong.



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