Third time lucky – even if luck probably has little to do with that. The name of the trick is “more rehearsal time”, and the result is that Donald Runnicles could finally show his credentials in this cycle. The audience was treated to top class orchestral playing – strings zipped adeptly through passagework, brass offered noble playing, expressive woodwind solos and properly otherworldly sounds in Brünnhilde’s awakening. The richer orchestral sound, rhythmic alert cast and flowing tempi concurred to a most agile account of the score – one could barely feel how long is an opera where theatre often gives pride of place to musical values.
This feeling was certainly aided by the casting of singers in key roles with excellent stage performances: the leading tenor is energy itself, looks and acts convincingly boyishly and is so comfortable with his forging duties that I would not be surprised if someone told me he was actually a blacksmith for a while; his Mime is an all-round accomplished actor and the Alberich is, as in Rheingold, a true find. Pity that Spielleiter Søren Schumacher gave the Nibelungen some very silly movements abounding in hopping and flapping the arms. Other than this, the stage action was quite well-timed, especially in act I. It is a pity that the soprano seemed entirely clueless and marred the closing scene with meaningless antics. Although Act I’s scenery has more than a splash of high school pantomime, the blacksmith shop is so convincingly arranged that one tended to overlook the prevailing kitsch. Erda’s African tent in act III represents a woeful misfire, but the idea of a mechanic dragon for Fafner is well-done if entirely unrelated to the aesthetics here adopted. And when Wagner wrote “Stimme des Waldvogels” in the score he knew what he meant – no sopranos ludicrously dressed as in a carnival parade hanging from a rope.
Stefan Vinke’s stage performance as Siegfried is so likable that one makes an effort to forgive the vocal glitches. Therefore, let us start with the positive aspects – he is certainly healthy, has stamina to sell and no problem with singing a tempo, even in the rather fast tempi chosen to exciting effects by Runnicles for the forging song. His basic sound (and a couple of mannerisms) makes me think of René Kollo, including his ability to pull back to mezza voce when necessary, albeit one seriously misguided about vocal placement. The approach is extremely forward and nasal and above the passaggio everything is extremely tight, straight-toned, muscular and short in harmonics. It is indeed remarkable that he was able to sing forte high notes like that – and sustain them – in a manner so stressful for the vocal chords. Considering the difficulty and length of the role, he even showed himself relatively untired in the end of the evening.
If you are a partisan of the sugar-rush approach to Mime, then Burkhard Ulrich offered a varied and imaginative account of the role. I’ve grown up feeling relieved when Wolfgang Windgassen finally put an end to Gerhard Stolze and always wish that someone like Graham Clarke (whom I had the pleasure to see in the Met’s Siegfried back in 1997) take this role.
Although Egils Sillins’s bass-baritone is a bit timid in the lower reaches and has its throaty moments, it is also spacious, firm and forceful enough for the Wanderer. Nevertheless, he was actually upstaged by the impressive Tomasz Konieczny in the opening of act II. The Polish bass-baritone is arguably the best Alberich on stage these days. It is a pity that Andrea Silvestrelli could not sing Fafner today – his voice is particularly well-suited to this role. That said, Ante Jerkunica offered a faultless performance of this small but important role. Ewa Wolak remains an impressive Erda, but Burcu Uyar’s unfocused singing spoiled a bit the fun in the part of the Waldvogel.
Unfortunately, Janice Baird was visibly uncomfortable in the part of Brünnhilde. She was often under the note, got lost now and then and fought with the tessitura. When she could relax, as in the Ewig war ich, ewig bin ich lyric moments, she showed welcome keenness for legato, but she rarely had the opportunity and, in the end, the impression was rather of tentativeness.