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Posts Tagged ‘Wagner’s Siegfried’

Reading what I wrote about the telecast of Wagner’s Siegfried from the Met, I cannot help wondering how flattering these microphones can be. Even if it is not fair to compare two different performances, the forces involved are more or less the same and the impression could not be more different.

First of all, after having seen the telecast, I wrote that Fabio Luisi had shown his Wagnerian credentials and have mentioned even a sense of “rhythmic alertness”. The same cannot be said this evening, I am afraid. To start with, the house orchestra’s string section sounded so recessed and/or colorless that the only positive side one could mention is that you could indeed hear the beautiful playing from woodwind throughout. The pace was generally slow and, in the context of thin and modest orchestral sound (the introduction to act III could be described as downright clumsy), one could feel how slow it could be. In the defence of Maestro Luisi, he was extremely considerate with his singers – his leading tenor lacks power and had some false entries (Wotan was sometimes “creative”, especially with the text). The moment when the conductor stopped  being nice to his cast, things actually became more effective (we are talking about act III…) – the final scene was actually quite exciting with some instances of beautiful articulation from the violins.

In the telecast. Jay Hunter Morris sounded like a light, slightly metallic yet plausible Siegfried. This evening, I would not use these words. The sound was often unfocused, sometimes raw and often lacking slancio. His German is accented and sometimes his personality is too likable for boorish Siegfried. There are moments, especially in act III, when one can see his heroic potential in some firm and full high notes, but I would say that jugendlich dramatisch roles sound more reasonable for his voice, provided he tries a more elegant approach to phrasing.

Actually, one tends to be harder on the Siegfried when the Mime displays such firmness, power and volume as Gerhard Siegel has this evening. I would add that, when he stays away from Spieltenorish placement (let’s call it like this), one perfectly believes that this German tenor has sung roles such as Florestan and Tannhäuser (and maybe should sing them more often). He is also a very imaginative and charismatic actor, stealing the show this evening.

The Siegfried’s Brünnhilde will never be Katarina Dalayman’s best friend – and she had to resort to the usual adaptations (shortening note values and disregarding dynamic markings when things get high – and they tend to STAY high in this part) to make it happen. That said, she was in very good voice this evening. Although her acuti were unvariedly forte and often tense, she sang warmly and sensitively most of the time. Moreover, it is always a pleasure to hear such a big velvety soprano voice in the theatre.

I’ve heard Mark Delavan sing richer high notes as Wotan in Berlin, but this evening he showed deeper understanding of his role, singing spiritedly and with flair. Also, his voice is noble and ample as required. He seems to need some extra rehearsals in this productions, one could notice. The contrast to Eric Owens’s Alberich was quite telling. If there is something in the telecast that is truly consistent to reality is the American bass-baritone’s performance. This is truly a Wagnerian voice of outstanding quality – large, forceful, rich, dark and quite flexible. Among the non-native speakers this evening, his was by far the best German, not only in terms of pronunciation but also in what regards declamation. He has an intense stage presence but, differently from Rhinegold, the director gave him here nothing to work from.

As a friend said this evening, Hans-Peter König is one of the rare Fafners these days whose voice sound large even when it is NOT offstage. Meredith Arwading has impressive deep contralto notes while coping with the mezzo area of the Siegfried Erda, but her diction is imprecise – not enough to disguise a strong accent. As for Lisette Oropesa’s Waldvogel, this is a bit tricky, especially when you sing it offstage (these days, directors tend to put the soprano ON stage), but this evening the impression was especially pale.

As for the production, there is very little to add to what I have previously written. One often reads about how Robert Lepage’s production does not go beyond the “machine” and how there is no Personenregie. Well, I would say that even in what regards the machine, there is still some space for improvement. The dragon in act II is almost funny and the  sets in the closing scene is far less impressive than the way they looked in the end of Die Walküre, for instance.

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“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.

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I know, everybody has already said everything to be said about the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Ring and I won’t probably write anything new, but having written about the two previous telecasts (and reporting “live” from the Met in the opening night of Die Walküre), I feel compelled to say something about the two last installments in the cycle. First of all, although I had found James Levine’s conducting in Rheingold somehow nobler (if a bit ponderous) than in his previous DVDs and had never been an admirer of Fabio Luisi, this Italian conductor had really proved his Wagnerian credentials in these two operas, especially in Götterdämmerung. Even if you have probably heard more polished orchestral sound and a more purposeful baton in some of the Ring’s almost infamously slacker scenes, Maestro Luisi never denied this score fuel when things had to catch fire: the impulse that propelled the scene often often started in the orchestral pit, not only in the sense of rhythmic alertness (most often than not the case here), but more importantly in the sense that the orchestral phrasing and tonal coloring established the dramatic content of each scene. Even if the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra might yield to the Berlin Philharmonic or the Vienna Philharmonic in warmth or in clarity, its A-team proved itself capable of a wide-ranging tonal palette, including some theatrically exciting raw sonorities that its famous European counterparts are not always willing to try. Some scenes gained a whole new excitement in its “graphic” sound effects as provided by these musicians – the string section in particularly exuberant shape, producing some exciting passagework in almost pre-war transparency.

In what regards the cast, the Met’s microphones are famous for their generosity, and I am willing to hear what my 7 or 8 readers (now that this not a blog from Berlin anymore, I guess I have to downscale its popularity) have to say about these singers. I have to confess I am surprised by Deborah Voigt’s achievements. I still find her dull in her Martha-Stewart-like propriety, complete absence of tonal/dynamic variety, artificial German and lack of emotional involvement (it seems to be all about “see how I can do this very tough piece of singing!”) BUT – at least in these telecasts – she sings it truly healthily and reliably. As she herself says, Siegfried is a bit high for her (and everybody else) and, by the end of it, she is a bit economical about the length of her acuti, but it all sounds like music, and that’s rare. In Götterdämmerung, her endless supply of round, rich, big top notes seemed a bit detached from Brünnhilde’s predicaments, but those were all right truly round, rich, big top notes.

Without being in the theatre and knowing how effective Jay Hunter Morris’s projection is, I’ll compare him to his competition on video and say he has many assets in comparison. First of all, he looks like Siegfried. Second, his acting talents are far from negligible – even if his stage persona is so likeable and congenial that one finds Siegfried incapable of doing something nasty or really violent (as he is supposed to be). Third, it is admirable the way he is determined to SING the role. As much as in his acting, this Siegfried is not about sharp angles – and this is particularly useful for his duets with Brünnhilde, in which there is a welcome drop of matinée tenor in his ardor and intent of liquidity. Naturally, there are moments in which he shows some fatigue (off-focus and squeezed high notes particularly), but even then, the results are smoother than with most. He still has to make the German text more natural – and less American (especially the “l” consonant).

As before, Bryn Terfel is a Wotan for repeated listening. There are many layers of meaning in his phrasing and, if his is not the most tremendous voice in the role, it is one entirely used for the singers’ expressive intents. And he also happens to be in good shape here. Eric Owens is a force of nature as Alberich and Hans-Peter König – differently from his not particularly menacing Hunding – proved to find an effective less-is-more formula for his richly sung Hagen. Gerhard Siegel’s Mime has some echt Heldentenor ring to his voice when he lets it and he is less mannered than most. Iain Patterson has the right voice and personality for Gunter, and I wished Wendy Bryn Harmer could bring more chiaroscuro to her all-purpose performance, for the voice is very appealing. As always, Waltraud Meier finds new things in everything she does. As for Patricia Bardon, I am afraid this is not really her repertoire, good as she is.

As for her Robert Lepage’s production, I’ve noticed I have said the same things the three times I have written about this Ring. I’ll try to say something different this time. Therefore, I won’t develop the “no Personenregie”, “no concept”, “why the fuss about the machine?”-comments. I’ll assume that the Met did want an easy production that would not shock new audiences away, the “novelty” of which would not interfere with the basic (in the sense of “primitive”) reporting of the immediate (in the sense of “superficial”) story-telling. In that sense, this Ring has fulfilled the commission’s requirements. My question is: why does it have to be so atmospheric? By “atmospheric”, I mean – yes, it does create the right atmosphere by virtue of very expensive machinery etc, but when it comes to the precise effects as described by the libretto, well, it is quite underwhelming: Fafner is a Chinese-fair-dragon, Erda comes on and off stage walking like everybody else and, if there is an anti-climax, then this is the immolation scene, which was short of embarrassing, I am afraid. And why does it have to be kitsch? Waters turning red whenever someone is murdered, those cereal-pack-figurine-like sculptures for the Gibichungen Halle – and the costumes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and so forth. I mean – one can do better than this, even if one wants to make a new Otto Schenk production.

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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).

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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.

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If this week’s Die Walküre from Bayreuth took some time to warm, this evening’s Siegfried did not hang fire. Christian Thielemann conducted a dense, large-scaled performance that did not need to rush to suggest intensity, but rather increased in tension steadily and progressively. Some conductors opt for raw excitement in this score’s percussive rhythmic effects, but Thielemann never tried any easy option. The forging song, for instance, achieved its effect rather through motivic clarity and rich almost weighty orchestral sound (which never drowned singers). The Neidhöhle scene benefited from dark menacing perspectives and the sort of harmonic transparence that makes one see in this music the hint of what would happen in the next century. The Brünnhilde/Siegfried scene benefited from otherworldly sounds and exploded in passionate, volatile full-toned orchestral playing under the maestro’s flexible beat.

Replacing an ailing Linda Watson as Brünnhilde in the last minute, Sabine Hogrefe offered a creamy-toned soprano with firm, big acuti, dynamic variety and a very decent trill. She bills herself as a dramatic soprano, but a limited lower range and a round rather than penetrating tonal quality would make one think rather of a jugendlich dramatisch voice. I am not sure if I would be tempted to see her Brünnhilde in Götterdämmerung, but I would certainly cherish the opportunity to sample her Elsa or Elisabeth. In any case, although she was understandably nervous, her singing was extremely accomplished, musicianly and sensitive. Lance Ryan’s tenor is not voluminous, but very well-focused and his high notes are easy and full. He is not afraid of shading his tone and is more accurate about rhythm than many a famous singer in the title role. He is also an excellent actor who knows how to portray innocence without looking silly. His interaction with Wolfgang Schmidt’s Mime is in the core of this evening’s success. I have written of Schmidt’s performance in Rheingold that I had the impression that he manipulated his voice to produce a Spieltenor sound. This evening he expertly managed this ambiguity of heroic and character Fächer to portray the alternating comic and evil sides of his role. He too offered top-level acting – the scene in which he tries to explain fear to Siegfried particularly well done. Andrew Shore still sounds unfocused and strained in his high register, but he is nonetheless a very convincing Alberich, while Albert Dohmen was in noticeably better voice today, offering spirited accounts of his scenes with Mime and Alberich. Again he has his throaty moments and a nobler tonal quality would make his scene with Erda more impressive, the latter role a bit on the low side for Christa Mayer. I mean it as a compliment when I say that Diógenes Randes’s voice is too beautiful for Fafner. As for Christiane Kohl’s Waldvogel, it lacked clearer vowels.

Tankred Dorst’s production still seems clueless about what to do with the plot – the schoolroom set for act I exclusively meant to add humor to the Wotan/Mime guessing game, but failing to respond to the needs of the forging scene. The set to act II looked indeed impressive, but the preparation to Fafner’s coming out of his cave was finally more impressive than his uneventful appearance as Fafner, the giant (rather than as Fafner, the dragon).  Act III was rather bureaucratically dealt with. In any case, the stage direction itself deserves praises for the successful characterizations of both Siegfried and Mime.

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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.

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