“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?”. It sounds utterly unimaginative to quote oneself, but I have to register another occurrence of the Siegfried-phenomenon.
It is hard to believe that this is the same orchestra and conductor from last Sunday’s Walküre. Then I have said that, from the opening bars, one could see that the performance would not take off. This evening, from the onset, Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin caught my attention. The variety of tonal possibilities explored by this orchestra this evening – ranging from the raucous to the crystalline – could tell alone everything you have to know about this opera. Even in the infamously dry acoustics of the Schiller Theater, the fulness of sound was often surprising. Clarity and coloring were the means chosen by the conductor to build his interpretation this evening – and the fact that the cast involved some big voices was reason enough for satisfaction. It was the orchestra the story-teller this evening – and the fact that these singers could be heard over it allowed Barenboim to fill the hall with sound and give his musicians leeway to produce some very interesting effects. Instead of going for excitement and fast tempi in the forging song, for instance, he allowed his tenor to articulate the text, while a kaleidoscopic sound picture unfolded itself around him. Later, when Siegfried longed for the mother his never knew, one could feel the presence of the forest around him in the vividness and warmth of the Staatskapelle’s string section’s playing. If I have to be picky, act III had a less impressive start, with a noisy and unsubtle Erda/Wotan scene; one could also imagine a more otherworldly awakening for Brünnhilde, but this difficult last scene developed very naturally and organically.
I have seen Lance Ryan as the Siegfried in Siegfried both in Bayreuth and Munich – and I have the impression that this evening’s was his most convincing performance. His singing still turns around clear diction, power and stamina rather than legato, sense of line and a truly pleasant voice, but he was both in better shape than in Munich and offered some very impressive full high notes such as I cannot recall to have heard in the Green Hill. I have the impression that he will never do justice to the grandiosely romantic lines of the final scene, but this evening he evidently did his best to sound smoother there.
Peter Bronder is a gifted actor with crisp articulation of the text, but his Mime has very little tonal variety. His very metallic tenor sometimes spreads in the higher ranges and is not really comfortable when things get low. By the end of act II, he sounded a bit tired too. I never cease to be amazed with Terje Stensvold’s vocal health at this stage of his career. His Wotan lacks variety and charisma (and has a patch of nasality in the middle range), but it is an uncomplicated and very powerful voice, especially in the baritone area of his bass-baritone. The contrast with Johannes Martin Kränzle’s intense, detailed performance as Alberich is quite telling. I was not very impressed when I saw him in Rheingold both in Milan and in Berlin, but this evening he was in very good voice, singing clearly and forcefully. Anna Larson is a soft-centered Erda with rich low notes, Rinnat Moriah was a somewhat edgy Waldvogel, and Mikhail Petrenko’s Fafner was a little better than his Hunding.
Anyone who expects perfection in the singing of Brünnhilde in this opera is bound to be disappointed. The role requires lyrical qualities that no dramatic soprano is able to offer in a tessitura as high as this one – and lyric sopranos find the part basically very strenuous. Irene Théorin trod carefully this evening, switching to mezza voce to produce a flowing line in high-lying passages, never letting go a convenient breathing point and keeping things as light as possible. This had the benefit of making her Brünnhilde sound particularly vulnerable and appealing. The transition to sheer Wagnerian voluminousness in climactic high notes were sometimes a bit abrupt, but she never failed to respond to these requirements. All in all, a very commendable performance.
As for Guy Cassiers’s production, I cannot see any concept behind the proceedings, which basically tell the story in a very generalized way, the Personenregie often very blank. Since there is a lot of physical action in Siegfried, one feels that less when the title role and Mime are involved. The projections are very effectively use in the forging scene, but generally sets, costumes and props are used for purely visual aesthetics. The bad news is that the dancers are back. This time they have swords and they use them to form patterns (like stars, hexagons and other completely irrelevant and distracting things). They also animate a very primitive dragon, made with a white blanket and projections.