I have a friend who says you cannot ruin a performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth – the cast may be awful, the director may be an imbecile, but the Bard’s text will shine through nonetheless. Is it Wagner’s Siegfried something similar? I don’t know, but I have realized that, in many performances of the tetralogy in my recollection, it was Siegfried the most effective in the lot (before my 13 or 14 readers ask me which one tends to be the worse, this is Die Walküre). Is it the propulsive rhythms, the inescapable necessity of crisply declaimed texts teaching where the right tempo is, the vertiginous action? This evening, for example, the energetic nature of the music has certainly led Kent Nagano into the right direction. Of course, the score did not give him the pulse and the precision he ideally should have, but the tension between a score that almost ran ahead by itself and a conductor who wanted to round off its sharp angles brought about the dynamic lacking in the previous evenings. Act I was particularly interesting – its raw energy transformed into “classical” buoyance with an important help of the Bavarian State Orchestra deluxe strings. Act II proved that the physicality of Mime and Siegfried’s interaction was probably the antidote to the other evenings’ flabbiness – once Mime was killed, the rhythmic backbone seemed to disappear and some awkwardness and disjointedness seemed to prevail again. The real clarity that was never really there became more evident. This afflicted act III especially: the opening scene sounded arthritic and purposeless, the Siegfried/Wanderer passage lacked tension and, when I feared for the worst, Brünnhilde’s awakening reserved the audience some surprises. The lyrical episodes sounded truly lyric, Nagano’s lack of propulsion almost passed for a Furtwänglerian suspension of time (again – exquisite sounds from the orchestra, even if French horns had their bumpy moments), but then Siegfried wanted some action and things turned out rather messy than exciting.
Once one adjusts to Catherine Naglestad’s somewhat shrewish middle register and recessed low notes, there was plenty to delight in her unforced high notes. Her smooth attack, development and finish in exposed acuti were often revelatory, particularly in Ewig war ich, lovingly sung. When things would develop into something more properly heroic, one could see that this is not really her repertoire, but I cherish the way she caressed – as I have almost never heard it – these difficult Wagnerian phrases. Although Jill Grove is a bit on the light side for Erda, it is always a treat to find a true contralto in the role, especially a fruity, firm-toned one. Anna Virovlansky was also an ideal woodbird – her diction clear, the tone fresh and lovely and the high notes rich and easy.
Lance Ryan’s forte has never been legato, tone colouring and the kind of subtlety that lies behind the word “cantabile” –unfailing stamina, clear diction a naturally animated stage attitude are in the core of her performance as Siegfried. One is truly amazed of how in control of his resources he is, particularly in the most demanding passages (the forging song being the showcase of his abilities). Nevertheless, my memory may betray me, but I have the impression he was truer to pitch in Bayreuth two years ago. Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke’s Mime shows no surprises – he builds his performance around the distorting vocal effects character-tenors seem to find inevitable in this role. Wolfgang Koch was in strong voice and offered the most dramatically gripping performance this evening. He is definitely one of the best Alberichs of our days. I have seen Alan Held a couple of times and my first impression this evening was that he has reached the peak of his abilities. His Wanderer fulfilled all the basic vocal requirements of the role – his bass-baritone was firm, rich and homogeneous – and he sang with authority and animation, but he would soon start to tire, his high notes gradually became colorless and by the end he was basically grey-toned. Rafal Siwek was a very dark-toned Fafner.
Andreas Kriegenburg’s production started off full of ideas – this was very much a Siegfried from the point-of-view of a child. Act I sets seemed to have sprung from a schoolchild’s drawing, with the kurogo stagehands (actually, the should be called shirogo, for they were all dressed in white…) carrying cotton clouds on stick, hidden under a green carpet through which their hands carried daisies etc. There were many clever ideas going on – and the 40 extras on stage were a helpful device to operate vertiginously fast set changes, but they were often really distracting with their little slapstick parallel actions, particularly during the forging scene. Act II turned around a striking-looking dragon consisting of the actors under a red lighting plus eyes and fangs. Unfortunately, the device was not truly agile, making for a particularly frustrating scene with Siegfried. The final act seemed to be the victim of short budget – using the extras as sets and props were rarely an illuminating resource (with the possible exception of the Erda/Wanderer scene), but seemed rather a necessity to wave plastic and fabric into “oceans of fire”, both literally and metaphorically (the closing scene, when the comic touches elicited too many laughs while Brünnhilde and Siegfried are sealing the fate of the universe, among other things).