Although Götz Friedrich’s Siegfried has more many splashes of kitsch, it remains my favorite production in his 1984 Ring for the Deutsche Oper – the blacksmith’s shop in act I is just irresistible (I like to believe that I have learned to forge a sword only by watching it). Jasmin Solfaghari’s Spielleitung could not avoid to follow some instructions that did not work very well for this cast, but I have found many scenes more spontaneous this year than last time. That said, there were too many examples of stage management amateurism this evening for comfort (especially an inextinguishable magic fire that required many visible stagehands).
I cannot tell if this performance’s more positive orchestral sound is the result of extra effort from Donald Runnicles or his orchestra – or simply a natural consequence of Wagner’s more rhythmic, brassy and percussive score. This fact alone – even if singers had to struggle to be heard – made this Siegfried more classically Wagnerian, but the bureaucratic feeling was still there. Although some moments sounded indeed agitated, the results were more mechanical than lively. In my memory, the also better cast performance I saw last year feature music-making of superior quality. During this performance, I couldn’t help wondering why the Deutsche Oper deemed it important to revive this Ring at all – the production is helplessly old, the conductor’s heart seems to be somewhere else and the orchestra is not really in the mood. And the casting is problematic. If there is good weather on Sunday, I might not even come for Götterdämmerung.
The congenial and convincingly boyish Torsten Kerl is very much a son of Robert Dean Smith’s Siegmund. As his “father”, he has a pleasant, natural voice, finds no problem in flowing legato and his tenor is two sizes smaller than it should. He sang with crystalline diction, good taste and sensitivity in a way that made the role of Siegfried surprisingly cantabile, but was often hard to hear, even in his top register, which is rather soft-centered and does not quite pierce through. His Mime, Burkhard Ulrich, as it often happens, was quite more forceful than him (probably the most hearable voice in this cast). Although I prefer a less hyperactive approach to the role, Ulrich deserves unreserved praise for his full commitment, acting skills and vocal security.
Last year, Mark Delavan had not sung the role of the Wanderer and decided to give it a try in Berlin for the first time this evening. I have the impression that he was not in very good shape – the voice sounded even more reduced in volume than usual and he was quite tired by the end. He had his share of problems with the text too, but I would risk to say that he is finding a Wotan inside him somehow. His stage attitude is more appropriate and his singing more integrated (instead of long undistinguished passages with occasional big important notes). In comparison, Gordon Hawkins sounded richer-toned and more forceful, but even less at ease in terms of personality in his role than on Rheingold. Ewa Wolak remains an impressive Erda, Ante Jerunica is again a most efficient Fafner and Hila Fahima is an ideal Waldvogel. When it comes to Janice Baird’s Brünnhilde, I am afraid that her performance is even more problematic than last year. She seemed so concentrated on trying to produce the notes that there is no interpretation to write about – and even the notes themselves left more than something to be desired. By the end of the opera, she was just trying to survive. I wonder how she is going to manage to sing the Götterdämmerung Brünnhilde, which has far more than one difficult duet with Siegfried.