Siegfried: Into the woods

Some of this Siegfried is much more conventionally wacky Regietheater than the previous Ring installments. I mean, if you ever can call a very fake jogging bear, a lot of glitter, giant bellows, and some dancing inanimate objects conventional. (Hey, this is Germany.) But it’s of a piece with the earlier installments, with an element of fun energy that works with this exuberant score. The cast had this energy. Even the conducting was almost exuberant!

Wagner, Siegfried. Bayerische Staatsoper Ring-Zyklus B, 7.13.12 Musikalische Leitung Kent Nagano

Inszenierung Andreas Kriegenburg
Bühne Harald B. Thor
Kostüme Andrea Schraad
Licht Stefan Bolliger
Choreographie Zenta Haerter
Dramaturgie Marion Tiedtke
Olaf A. Schmitt.

Siegfried Lance Ryan
Mime Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke
Der Wanderer Thomas J. Mayer
Alberich Wolfgang Koch
Fafner Rafal Siwek
Erda Jill Grove
Brünnhilde Catherine Naglestad
Stimme eines Waldvogels Elena Tsallagova

After the feudalism of Walküre, we return in Siegfried to, at first, a happy egalitarian utopianism. Unlike anyone else, dumb Siegfried can see the extras as people, and as individuals. They start off waving around cotton clouds and spreading a grassy green carpet to establish a naïve, sunny setting (think of the Stuttgart Ring’s Siegfried). As Siegfried questions Mime, the grubby little hut repeatedly disassembles itself and we see some of the action enacted upstage. In many cases I have found this kind of illustration ineffective, redundant in a way that distracts from the live action of narration. But the twist here is that Siegfried is watching the events. We see him discover his past; it’s an active part of the drama rather than merely a filler of empty stage space.  Then the Wanderer arrives looking for all the world like Gandalf.

The sword forging is a real party, one of the first spectacles in this whole cycle. Siegfried invites all the supernumeraries over to help and they bring giant bellows and other forging equipment, some short segments of pipe are dancing around for no particular reason, and the strikes of the hammer are punctuated by glitter sparks.  It’s a bit much but so little of this production has gone for big effects that it was a fun change of pace.

Act Two starts with the Wanderer and Alberich meeting like vigilantes in a post-apocalyptic landscape. Then Siegfried’s wanderings take him to some very dark woods of adolescence. The bird is represented both by a bouncy girl in a white dress (the singer) and a super carrying a bird puppet, and the former gives Siegfried a tentative introduction to his libido. The pipe and horn moments are, as usual, played for laughs, with a very incompetent oboe cadenza and purposefully bad miming of the horn passages, provoking Siegfried’s ire at the unseen hornist (somewhat hilariously, the horn player is credited in the program but the oboe player is not). Eventually he comes to something that looks like a supersize version of the hoard’s vault from Rheingold, with extras hanging on walls replacing the blocks of gold. Fafner is a writhing mass of extras hanging on a frame, a striking if not particularly practical effect. The Alberich-Mime scene is even more noir than the Alberich-Wanderer one was, beginning with both pointing guns at each other.

Act Three I found to be the weakest of the cycle so far. The Erda section, again wreathed in mud, works well enough, but then the tempo of the staging slows to a standstill. With the help of a some enormous plastic drops the extras become a kind of fire or river or something, and basically stay there until Brünnhilde enters. Things were briefly made more interesting when half of the Wanderer’s broken spear rolled into the orchestra pit (luckily not the pointy end). The action had up to this point moved quickly, and this just sort of stops. The setting for the awakening involves a giant bed and an enormous amount of red fabric, and is not the most attractive, but the staging of the meeting itself is great. It’s a question: do you want to see two awkward virgins try to figure it out or do you want to see the world saved? If it’s the latter you might find this staging somewhat flippant but I thought it was unusually sweet and convincing. My favorite thing about this cycle may be how it never considers its charaters, mortal or not, as anything other than real people.

Also, had Kriegenburg staged the ending in a more conventionally grandiose and triumphant way it would have rung false. Because this isn’t a cycle where a ton seems to be at stake. It is, so far, a nice story with some beautiful moments but it has a modesty that is, depending on your perspective, either refreshing and disarming or possibly utterly infuriating. I am still leaning towards the former, because the chamber approach seems to reap large rewards (and not everything has to be apocalyptic, really), but I’m not entirely decided.

I enjoyed much of the orchestral contribution, this really is a first-rate group. Nagano I could live with this time around. Pacing and excitement certainly could be better, but this performance basically worked. The forging was genuinely loud, the dragons snarly, and the end taken with a meditative lightness.

Lance Ryan is a wonderfully animated Siegfried with a wide grin and endless energy both physical and vocal. He can get through the opera and still sound decent, well, as decent as he did at the start. His tone is not ingratiating, he does not do legato, intonation can be dicey and sometimes the sound is pretty ugly. But it’s a very large voice and his command of it, as well as his ease onstage, is complete. Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke as Mime also did not have a pleasant voice but as Mime who does and he made the character unusually complex, not as much pure villain as a kind of pathetic loser who, somehow, might actually care for Siegfried.

Thomas Mayer was less impressive as the Wanderer than he was as the Walküre-Wotan, somehow just not standing out as much and sounding a little more wooly than stentorian. His spear breaking was nicely done, however. (The spear heading into the pit is such a provocative bit of symbolism—the gods’ power shifting to the composer’s orchestra—that some director should do it on purpose.) Wolfgang Koch is a super Alberich, looking like a gangster and sounding monumental if sometimes vocally overacting.

Catherine Nagelstad’s soprano is less Brünnhilde than Puccini—I can’t imagine her singing any of the other ones at least—but she was interesting here, singing with all the legato and nuance that Ryan lacks. Her middle voice can be wiry but her high notes are effortless and big, and she was appropriately radiant. Elena Tsallagova was a late replacement as the Waldvogel but was charming and sweet-voiced, though among this cast her German stuck out as unclear. Rafal Siwek was very low and rumbly as Fafner, and Jill Grove was an actual contralto as Erda.

I am looking forward to Götterdämmerung later today!


More photos (all copyright Wilfred Hösl)

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1 Comment

  1. A great review! I'm glad Nagano is rising up to the challenging task of providing pace and excitement. By the way, look closely, Fafner has the face of a snarling Chinese dragon! I like it!