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MET Siegfried 2011 : Review round-up (With Added Video and Images)

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday 30 October 2011 | 8:59:00 pm

As some will be aware, I had to go to sleep during the METs premiere of Siegfried. Now, this wasn't the productions fault but due to a large time difference and a busy schedule the following day. But what of those in NY, did they manage to stay awake and if they did what did they think? 


So, let us start with Lepage's grand idea. Now I have to say, I really wanted to like this production, especially considering what has been happening with Wagner productions at an other large opera house that shall remain nameless. Alas, having seen Walkure I - for whatever that is worth - was not overly impressed. During the performance I had the feeling that I was watching a concert production (although the lighting is wonderful). For all its novelty, size, and -  lets be honest - noise it adds very little to the production. One is reminded of a semi-staged production that utilizes video projections - albeit on a very large screen. However, Lepage had more than hinted at changes this time - no less than a Ring in 3d! (Whatever, you might make of such a seemingly redundant concept as "3d theatre"). So, with this in mind what did our critics make of it all?

Anthony Tommasini New York Times (NYT) starts off by seeming to be impressed by the whole spectacle:
In this “Siegfried” Mr. Lepage makes the most effective use so far of the malleable “Ring” set, called the machine (a 45-ton apparatus with movable planks on a crossbar). There are jarring moments when moving pieces creak into place. But for the most part the planks form stable surfaces for Pedro Pires’s inventive video images, especially in Act II, set in the depths of the forest, with verdant trees and flowing streams.
Well, there we go, all seems right this time and so...oh, wait a minute, next paragraph:

The most annoying element of the production came in Act I, in which Mime’s dwelling and forge are placed in a sunken area toward the rear of the stage. Mr. Lepage’s penchant for sunken enclaves, also a problem in Act I of “Walküre” last season, is baffling. Here he has the imposing Mr. Terfel as his Wanderer, and in crucial moments he visually cuts off this charismatic singer at the knees. What a difference in Act II, when the characters sang mostly from the flat boards at the front of the stage.
Ok, just the first act is problematic. That's not too bad lets...oh dear, there's more:

For all its niftiness, the machine, which has a history of malfunctioning, is too distracting. In Act III, during the scene change to a mountain summit, besides all the creaking, there were crashing sounds from backstage, which took attention away from the glorious orchestra.

And MIKE SILVERMAN - The Associated Press (AP) did you like it?

Lepage has been criticized in previous installments for allowing his massive set to circumscribe the movements of the singers. That's still true to some extent, though he may be learning from his mistakes
.So, it's all good then? No?

The Act 1 forest cave where Mime the dwarf has reared the young hero Siegfried is scrunched back on one side into a trough behind the apron (similar to Hunding's hut in Act 1 of "Die Walkuere"). It lessens the impact of the climactic sword-forging scene and means that to move between the cave and a hillside, the singers have to keep climbing up and down an awkward set of steps.

Well, that is problematic and the rest of the opera?

...Acts 2 and 3, Lepage opens up the apron, giving room for more natural interplay among the characters. As a result, the final scene — in which Siegfried climbs through a ring of magic fire to awaken the sleeping Bruennhilde on a mountaintop — is both visually stunning and dramatically engrossing, even without any 3-D.

No mention of the noise from the thing then?

But what about James Jorden - New York Post (NYP). Could you hear what was going on? James? James? JAMES!!

Though Lepage’s main scenic unit, the cranky 45-ton “machine” set, didn’t delay the show as it did for last season’s HD telecast of “Die Walküre,” it drowned out the ethereal orchestra prelude to the final scene with enough clanking for a demolition derby

Perhaps Mike was in the cheap seats far back and couldn't hear the noise? Ok, James, but apart from the noise it was stimulating a production?

If the long evening dragged, blame Robert Lepage’s scatterbrained production, which lacked any intellectual point of view. Breathtaking visuals — a moonlit lake that magically congealed into a jagged glacier — left the singers stranded on a narrow ledge downstage. The worst misfire was the dragon Fafner, who was about as terrifying as a balloon from the Macy’s parade.

Well, all productions struggle with poor old Fafner.

Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim - Classical Review (CR), what did you think?

In this installment, the monster set has been tamed, programmed to remain static for hours at a time, leaving the singers to scramble around empty surfaces.

Sounds good, or does it?

With a quality cast, that’s not all bad. For Wagnerites weary of the iconoclastic urges of modern regietheater, Lepage’s Ring, for all its advertised technological genius, is a refuge. A sword is simply a sword – even when Siegfried uses it to disarm the sleeping Brünnhilde.

Not "interpretive" then? That can't be a bad thing, but it remains intellectually astute then? A deep, if direct, penetration of the text?

It’s not that Lepage shies away from the work’s sexual and psychological layers: he just doesn’t see any.
Surely someone has good things to say? David Finkle - Theater Mania (TM)?

For their production of Siegfried, Lepage and Fillion have wisely scaled back the death-defying challenges that characterized their Met stagings of Das Rheingold and Die Valkyure. It's not that the collaborators have completely disassembled the obstacle course presented by those humungous, stage-filling seesaw planks of theirs that sometimes resemble three ranks of keyboards where the black and white keys have blended into a lulling grey. They've simply shifted the apparatus so it remains in workable place -- and video artist Pedro Pires projects his stunning images of lush forests, rodents and reptiles moving across tree roots, and leaping flames.
And the benefits of that Dave?

This allows the audience to more fully focus on the singers
Ok, so the production has got a bad time of it, but what of the cast?


Maybe it is because I am getting old, but there seems to be a definite trend with opera reviewers to spend the majority of the review on the production and little on the actual vocal performance. So bad is this, that in this roundup, only 3 of the reviewers even mention Mojca Erdmann's, Forest Bird. Considering that more people will have listened to this performance on their computers then seen it (and this will continue to be the case with the radio broadcasts latter on), this seems somewhat excessive. It is of course difficult to describe and review music but surely it is worth the effort?

With this in mind I present the reviewers thought without any interpretation - if they can't be bothered neither can I and to be honest (with a few exceptions) the comments are bland and boring and I haven't the heart.

Jay Hunter Morris, : Siegfried

... Jay Hunter Morris, who sang the title role of “Siegfried” this summer in a new production of the “Ring” at the San Francisco Operaand gave a creditable account. At the Met on Thursday he was better still, a quite decent Siegfried, which is a real achievement. (NYT)
Though Mr. Morris, who looked strong and youthful, does not have a big voice, he made up in energy what he lacked in power. His singing was admirably clean and honest (NYT)

American tenor Jay Hunter Morris does not possess the lung power of a true Wagnerian heldentenor, but his bright, lyrical voice and winning stage presence made him a most appealing young Siegfried. To say that he got through the long evening with little sign of vocal fatigue is high praise indeed. (AP)

Morris brandished a bright, lyric voice that pierced Wagner’s massive orchestrations. Tall, blond and broad-shouldered, the tenor — who started on Broadway in 1995’s “Master Class” — even looked the part of a Teutonic dragon slayer. (NYP)

...filled the heroic part with remarkable grace. There is a natural quality to his singing that produces an evenly luminous, unforced, sound. His forest scene in Act II, where Siegfried reflects on the mother he never knew, was lush and dreamy. There was a sense of him singing from inside the music rather than wrestling with it – even when his voice started to fray in the final act (CR)

Jay Hunter Morris, filling in for the ailing Gary Lehman, nicely distinguishes himself in the title role. The slim, athletic-looking Morris -- in Francois St-Aubin's lightweight armor and with Siegfried's early-days mullet streaming down his back -- began tentatively. It wasn't long, though, before he drew convincingly on a warmly robust tenor that went a commendable way toward making understandable -- and winning -- young Siegfried (TM)

Bryn Terfel: Wanderer

Whether ranting or brooding, Mr. Terfel sang with chilling intensity and power. If the visceral emotion of the moment turns his sound raw at times, so be it.

Mr. Terfel was especially gripping when he confronted his nemesis, the wily dwarf Alberich... (NYT)

Repeating his role as Wotan (now renamed the Wanderer), bass-baritone Bryn Terfel brought a world-weary majesty to the role and successfully punched through the heavy orchestration in Act 3, though he seemed at the limit of his powers and once or twice resorted to a kind of bluster. (AP)
Also fine was Bryn Terfel as the god Wotan, traveling incognito as the Wanderer. His radiant bass-baritone and supersize personality supplied a tragic grandeur that has been mostly AWOL from this “Ring.” (NYP)

Bryn Terfel, too, as the Wanderer, opened with an uncharacteristically colorless voice and wobbly vibrato. He warmed up noticeably in the second act opposite Eric Owens (CR)

Wotan (Bryn Terfel, singing with chilly authority) (TM)

Gerhard Siegel: MIME

Mime (the dynamic tenor Gerhard Siegel) (NYT) 
Tenor Gerhard Siegel was a Mime to treasure, his performance full of little grace notes (such as his turning tongue-tied when he tries to ask the Wanderer the final question in their riddle game.) (AP)

Gerhard Siegel as Alberich’s brother Mime, flexing a tenor muscular enough for Siegfried himself. (NYP)

But Acts I and II rightfully belonged to Gerhard Siegel. As the clever, conniving Mime he giggled and groveled, schemed and threatened, using every tool at his disposal. Among the most impressive is his razor-sharp diction, each consonant spat out like someone expelling sunflower seed husks for rhetorical effect. (TM)

Eric Owens: Alberich

Alberich, the bass-baritone Eric Owens. During the Met’s new “Rheingold” last season, Mr. Owens proved an Alberich for the ages. The role here is shorter but still crucial. Mr. Owens, again amazing, sang with stentorian sound and crisp diction, fleshing out every psychological nuance. (NYT)

Eric Owens reprised his incisive portrayal of Alberich (AP)

Eric Owens, boasting a granite-dark bass-baritone as the sinister dwarf Alberich (NYP)

Eric Owens, who continues his intense portrayal of Alberich with a powerful, if not always pretty, baritone. (CR)

Patricia Bardon: Erda

...the dark-voiced mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon (NYT)
Patricia Bardon struggled at both ends of her register in Erda's brief scene, theatrically the weakest of the night (AP)
Patricia Bardon, whose mezzo is as earthy as her character's domain (TM)

Hans-Peter König: Fafner

...the formidable bass Hans-Peter König (NYP)
...bass Hans-Peter Koenig sang imposingly as Fafner, (AP)
German, bass Hans-Peter König more than filled the role of Fafner with his muscular bass; it was only a shame that for much of his performance he had to do so unseen and amplified from behind a rubbery dragon puppet (CR)
Hans-Peter Konig, who sang with full-throated persuasion, although the dragon puppet dreamed up for him to sing behind wasn't as effective (TM)

Mojca Erdmann: Forest Bird

Mojca Erdmann was a bright-sounding forest bird.(CR)
Forest Bird (sung by the agile, pleasant soprano Mojca Erdmann, just out of sight) (NYT)
Forest Bird (Mojca Erdmann, clear and pristine but unseen while an animated bird flitted through Pires' projected trees). (TM)

Deborah Voigt: Brünnhilde Brünnhilde, the soprano Deborah Voigt sang with bright, penetrating sound and textured shadings. Her voice, though sometimes hard-edged, was exciting and expressive. And Ms. Voigt poignantly captured Brünnhilde’s confusion as she grapples with the loss of her godhood and realizes that no armor will protect her from the threat of Siegfried’s love, which she helplessly returns. (NYT) 
As his newly awakened bride, Voigt did not fare as well. The role of Bruennhilde in "Siegfried" is brief but unforgiving: She appears only in the last scene, but then is immediately called upon to pour out waves of sound, much of it in the upper range of the soprano voice.
Voigt approached her assignment earnestly but with noticeable caution, and she struggled to reach those high Cs. (AP)
Less happily cast was Deborah Voigt as the spellbound Valkyrie Brunnhilde, her voluptuous soprano turning ungainly as she lurched at high notes. That’s a shame, because she played the subtle transformation from virgin goddess to passionate woman exquisitely, with by far the best acting in her 20-year Met career. (NYP)
No special effects were offered to visualize the transformation of Brünnhilde from formerly feisty warrior-goddess to incandescent lover, but then, Deborah Voigt didn’t need any. As it was, her performance felt more like a solo flight, her voluptuous high notes soaring over the orchestra, which by then had finally hit its stride. There is a marked disparity between her joyfully radiant upper register and the more burnished sound she produces lower down, but both are tied together by a generosity of spirit uniquely her own. Once freed of her breastplate, she looked lovely with her flowing red curls and simple white gown. A dishy Brünnhilde opposite a strapping, blond-stubbled Siegfried? A more imaginative director might have sparked real chemistry between them. (CR)
...among them Deborah Voigt in some of her finest Brunnhilde moments (TM)

 Fabio Luisi: Conductor
That its members respect Mr. Luisi enormously was clear from their superb playing. He drew a transparent, flowing account of Wagner’s score, free of any heavy-handed interpretive agenda. During extended stretches, “Siegfried” sounded like the scherzo of a four-part “Ring” symphony (NYT)

Musically, by far the most noteworthy ingredient of the night was the astonishing playing by the orchestra as led by Fabio Luisi, the Met's new principal conductor.
In the first two acts, Luisi wove an elegant, chamber music-like texture with brisk tempos that made clear how closely this opera resembles the scherzo of a symphony. In the final act, when Wagner's orchestration thickens, Luisi elicited magnificent waves of sound without sacrificing individual detail.(AP)
Fabio Luisi, who rejuvenated the score with brisk, transparent sound. After decades of James Levine’s ponderous approach, it was like seeing a great painting stripped of encrusted grime. The standing ovation at his curtain call sounded like a real hero’s welcome. (NYP)
In the first act, there were coordination problems with the orchestra, but that had more to do with the choppy playing in the pit where Fabio Luisi got off to a slow start. (CR)
Maestro Fabio Luisi may not have the uncanny control possessed by James Levine, but he certainly produces the "rustling and roaring" orchestral effects that Wagner's libretto mentions in another context. Luisi also saw to it that the more lyrical later passages acquired the "fierce glow" mentioned in the libretto's more romantic contexts. (TM)