It Yet Still Continues: The Wiener Staatsoper's Ring Cycle
Synopsis & general information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siegfried_(opera)
Siegfried | Richard Wagner
Christian Thielemann | Dirigent
Sven-Eric Bechtolf | Regie
Rolf Glittenberg | Bühne
Marianne Glittenberg | Kostüme
fettFilm | Video
Stephen Gould | Siegfried
Linda Watson | Linda Watson
Albert Dohmen | Der Wanderer
Tomasz Koniczny | Alberich
Anna Larsson | Erda
Wolfgang Schmidt | Mime
Ain Anger | Fafner
Chen Reiss | Stimme des Waldvogels
The sets for this production of Siegfried echoed the design in Die Walküre in that each scene took place in some sort of box. The first scene had three tall walls with small industrial-looking fans at the top. there were several large steps and a grid of nine workbenches, with an assortment of tools, water for tempering, anvils, a bellows, and so forth. Some of this material is necessary for the workshop that is the literal setting of the act. The second act was comprised by this same box covered with various wild animals running all over its surface (obviously something that is realistically impossible as they were parallel to the ground). Later, when Siegfried is in combat with the dragon (Fafner), the back wall of this set slid outward, revealing a screen and a ditch behind the slightly elevated stage. This allowed Siegfried to jump down as he went to fight the dragon, which was portrayed on the screen. This, like all the previous visual effects in this Ring Cycle, left much to be desired. The dragon's green eye loomed, looking back and forth following Siegfried's movements, until he disappeared.
Then, alternating with burst of fire from the eye, a silhouetted form with a sword fights in the eye's center, looking essentially like a dancing figure from early iPod commercials. Only after this ended, the eye turning red to indicate blood, and physical Siegfried returning, did Ain anger rise on a pillar as high as halfway up the proscenium, wearing a snake outfit draped to the floor. From here he gave Siegfried his warning before disappearing below. The final act began with the same two walls on the side but with The Wanderer, Erda, and Siegfried interacting around a ditch representative of the calling of Erda, with a sheer background sporting eerie projected light. In the last scene, in which Brünnhilde and Siegfried actually meet, the same box from the beginning is utilized, but the back wall was tilted away at a 45 degree angle, allowing Siegfried to lay on it. These sets, like those from previous operas in this Ring Cycle felt like they were trying to bridge a gap, equivocating between abstract and literal. While a desire to stay true to Wagner's setting while still innovating is understandable, it felt as though the design could have benefited from a clearer artistic perspective.
The singing in the Wiener Staatsoper's production of Wagner's Ring Cycle seemed to reach its height in Die Walküre before sloping off in later productions. The parts in Siegfried are, of course, very difficult to perform and impressive just to get through. There weren't performance-ruining issues, but things felt a little less well-rounded here compared to previous operas.
Ain Anger returned as Fafner, dressed this time as a snake rather than a giant, though singing offstage for part of his role while the hokey dragon video was playing. Paired as Fafner is with Fasolt in Das Rheingold it was hard to get a solid read on Ain Anger's abilities as an individual performer. Here, however, he was considerably more impressive. His voice was not the largest around and also not incredibly remarkable. Nonetheless, it was consistent and robust. This, combined with his size (amplified by standing on a pedestal), face, and makeup gave him a foreboding impression that potently delivered his warning to Siegfried.
Another otherworldly character, Erda, continued to be well performed by Anna Larsson. Erda has much more presence in Siegfried compared to Das Rheingold. Larsson, despite the greater demands, kept her hauntingly earthy contralto consistent, adding wavy, eerie stage movement to this to temper the portrayal with onstage presence. Though other singers in this Ring Cycle fit their roles well and sang acceptably, Larsson might have portrayed the most artistically completely character in the entire cast.
Linda Watson stepped in for the role of Brünnhilde due to Katarina Dalayman being sick. Watson's voice is decidedly more Wagnerian in scope and color than that of Dalayman. Also, though the stagetime is shorter, the demands of Brünnhilde in Siegfried compared to those in Die Walküre seemed like they might overwhelm Dalayman's somewhat smaller voice. While Watson brought a frankly huge, pillowy sound, it was less intriguing than Dalayman's unique voice with more bite and a younger feel. Indeed, Watson's actions on stage were somewhat static as well, and left the question hanging whether Dalayman would have offered a more dynamic performance. Watson was appreciable and gave a completely well-rounded outing as Brünnhilde, but definitely took no risks.
Stephen Gould's entrance to this Ring Cycle in the role of Siegfried would have been impressive had it not come on the heels of Christopher Ventris' performance in the role of his father, Siegmund. While Gould's voice might have had greater stamina, a large overall size, and a greater capacity to push the voice to dramatic heights, it did not have the freedom and ringing heroism that seemed so easy for Ventris to achieve. If anything, I would almost have preferred them to be reversed, though Ventris does not have Siegfried in his repertoire, perhaps because the stamina or volume required do not fit his voice. Though it was hard to realize at first, Gould's great skill in his portrayal of Siegfried is in his blithe, carefree attitude. He both looked and acted like a sort of kid, almost, dashing from one thing to another without fear or foresight. He capitalized on this initial portrayal by then truly expressing fear, shock, and love when meeting with Brünnhilde. All in all, Gould presented a well acted Siegfried with acceptable singing throughout, but with a tone that left a bit of freedom to be desired.
With only Götterdämmerung to go, it is clear that the Wiener Staatsoper's first production this season of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen is by no means a failure, if not completely even across operas or roles. The sets have been decidedly mediocre, but the singing has been in a broad range with enough performers coming out in the positive to give the Cycle as a whole a successful feel.
|Not the same cast, but the same production and a funny joke!|