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Seen and Heard International Opera Review

 

 

 

Wagner, Siegfried at the Stockholm Royal Opera, 16.09.2006 (GF)


Sets and Costumes: Bente Lykke Møller

Lighting: Torben Lendorph

Dramaturge: Stefan Johansson

Direction: Staffan Valdemar Holm

 

 

Siegfried: Lars Cleveman (tenor)

Mime: Niklas Björling Rygert (tenor)

Der Wanderer (Wotan): Terje Stensvold (bass-baritone)

Alberich: Ketil Gugaas (bass)

Fafner: Lennart Forsén (bass)

Waldvogel: Marianne Hellgren-Staykov (soprano)

Erda: Anna Larsson (contralto)

Brünnhilde: Katarina Dalayman (soprano)

 

 

The Royal Opera Orchestra/Gregor Bühl

Siegfried’s horn signal: Annamia Eriksson (French horn)

 

 

 

After the first two, highly successful instalments in the new Stockholm Ring cycle, one expected great things from Siegfried, and on the whole expectations were fulfilled. Consistent with the general concept even this outdoor opera is set in closed rooms, where contact with the outer world is created through windows. This most comical of the Ring operas – more than one commentator has named it the scherzo, if the whole cycle is regarded as a four movement symphony – is given a touch of absurdism that is in line with the quite absurd characters and events that Wagner has assembled here. Dramaturge Stefan Johansson calls it a satyr play – whatever the terminology it is a great macabre. Just think of the characters: the evil, neurotic Mime, his likewise evil and greedy brother Alberich, the power-hungry Wotan, who has officially taken time out from his leadership of Walhalla but is still trying to manipulate the world, the evil protector of the stolen Rhinegold, Fafner, turned into a frightening dragon and the “hero”, young Siegfried, here more than usual given an image of a violent hot-head, feeling no fear but neither being capable of empathy. Stefan Johansson labels him “hooligan” and to be sure I have never quite been able to understand Wagner’s ideology behind glorifying this unsympathetic youngster. All right, at the very end of the opera, in one of the most magic of love scenes, he learns through Brünnhilde what fear is and maybe Wagner, who probably sees himself in this hotspur, wants to show how even the roughest of stones can be polished through experience. Be that as it may, but the blatant anti-Semitism that is also part and parcel of this story, is even harder to stomach and especially the greedy Alberich is also given a very Shylockian look in this production.

The first act is set in Mime’s combined workshop and lodgings: a long workbench filling almost the whole width of the stage. On this bench forging, cooking, maltreatment and everything else that happens during this long act is carried through. The walls are filled with empty square shelves, and above the shelves at the back wild nature is seen through a wide window. When Wotan arrives his two knowledgeable ravens are seen out there and a little later two wolves appear, waiting until Wotan leaves.



The second act is the most absurd, a kind of play within the play. Supposed to take place outside the cave where Fafner gloats over his gold, it is again set in a closed room with foliage wall paper, a stage at the back of the stage and a group of summer dressed people seated on chairs, backs to the audience. Looking like spa guests from the early 20th century, perhaps left-overs from Death in Venice, they react, individually or as a group, to what happens. Many of them are dancers and perform sometimes utterly parodic and exaggerated choreographies and parts of the act are actually turned into farce – which I don’t mind. The audience at the premiere were also audibly amused. Everything that Wagner wrote need not necessarily be philosophised over and brooded on. Waldvogel is here a beautiful woman in the flesh, also taking part in the comedy and dressed exactly as Sieglinde was in act III of Die Walküre, to indicate her double role of guide to Siegfried but also a substitute for the mother that he has never met. Fafner also appears in person on the extra stage, megaphone in hand, like a herald, while the dragon is vaguely seen, flying about, through the windows.

The third act actually takes place out-doors, in a dimly lit street in front of a black house façade with a door at street level and some windows upstairs, through which can be seen a richly decorated, illuminated stateroom. Wotan summons Erda who arrives and during their long dialogue people in evening-dress arrive, one or two couples at a time, enter through the door and a little while later are seen through the windows, until the room is filled with guests. When Erda leaves, she too goes through the same door and when she appears in the illuminated room the guests slowly withdraw from her until she is alone in the room; she turns and faces the audience, the lights go out until the room is dimly lit like a black-and-while photograph and Erda remains motionless until the end of the dispute between Wotan and Siegfried. In the last scene of the act we are back where Die Walküre ended: the room where Wotan threw Brünnhilde into sleep. She is lying, covered by her shield, centre-stage, flames are seen through all the windows, which are now decidedly sooty and Loge is still there, supervising the scene, but he withdraws when Siegfried arrives, The flames go down and disappear but black smoke still belches out and when it also disappears we can see a black landscape, lifeless, in the distance industrial chimneys from which smoke is still billowing forth – a vision of the world the industrial society leaves behind for future generations and a portent of The Twilight of the Gods to follow.

 



As readers have already understood this is a many-faceted performance, spanning from hilarious comedy to deepest pessimism – and all the shadings between these two extremes. The fairy tale of Das Rheingold has, perhaps logically, turned into grotesquerie, and musically this is Wagner at his most daring. He probably realised that he was heading in a direction that was too uncompromising and wisely shelved Siegfried for more than a decade, working on Tristan and Die Meistersinger instead, returning with new views for the final act. Gregor Bühl definitely has the measure for this, the most complicated of Wagner’s scores, and holds together all the sprawling ends admirably. He opts for mostly fastish tempos which also means the Wagner’s brew is boiling at a high temperature and he is supported by grandiose playing by the orchestra, who are on a truly elated level of excellence at the moment. They don’t produce the fattest of Wagner sounds, which I don’t regret, since over-inflated Wagner easily becomes ponderous. This orchestra produces a transparent sound, making Wagner’s delicious scoring all the more apparent, and there is no lack of heft in the many powerful eruptions. There are several important instrumental solos, excellently played, and Annamia Eriksson’s execution of Siegfried’s famous horn signal was superb.

In Wagner the orchestra is more important than the singers, is a common statement – mostly from those who are not especially fond of Wagner. There is a grain of truth in that, of course, but without good singers any Wagner opera is a half measure, maybe even less than that. The first two parts of this cycle were hailed – not only by me – for the excellent singing and the Siegfried cast didn’t let the director and conductor down. Maybe the most impressive of the lot were Niklas Björling Rygert as Mime and Terje Stensvold as Wotan/Der Wanderer. Mime is a really grateful part for a good character tenor and I have recently seen two different productions on DVD with Graham Clark almost unsurpassable in the role. But Björling Rygert has gone from strength to strength in a variety of character roles the last few years and here he caps anything he has done before. I praised his neurotic Mime in Das Rheingold a year ago but he has grown even more since then and besides his actual acting talent his voice has expanded; now he possesses a shining dramatic tone and a volume that challenged even Siegfried himself. I bet that in ten years time he will be a glorious Siegfried – but he shouldn’t hurry. As Mime he might well be a leading star in the big houses for years to come. Having lived with the part for 2½ years every word, every inflexion is in his system, as he said in an interview, complete with tics, and it is only to be hoped that he can separate Mime’s personality from his own.

Terje Stensvold, whose Wotan was so impressive in the first two operas, was just as glorious and I would even go as far as saying that his singing was even more uninhibited here. A bass-baritone of imposing dimensions that can pour out golden tone at a volume that fills even the biggest houses, delivered with a steadiness that even the most world-famous Wotans should envy.

Lars Cleveman has sung a wide variety of roles through his career, which also includes working from time to time with his own hard-rock band. Last December he was a good Des Grieux in the new Stockholm production of Manon Lescaut and he can be heard to good advantage in the title role of Don Carlo from Stockholm on a fine Naxos recording. He is no newcomer to heavy Wagnerian parts either. Four or five years ago I heard him as Tristan in the little theatre in Karlstad in western Sweden. He impressed greatly then, untiring until the very end of that gigantic part. But Siegfried is just as big and in the far larger opera house in Stockholm and with a full-size orchestra he once or twice sounded just a little too small – but I stress: only occasionally. In general, looking like the sulky teenage gangster that Siegfried certainly is, he executed the part with aplomb, his steely tenor cutting through the orchestra like a welding flame. But he also showed another side of the character; after all, Siegfried has some human sides too, especially when he, in the Waldweben scene, wonders about his mother. Then he expressed this with warmly lyrical outpourings that not every Heldentenor could manage.

Ketil Hugaas was an intensely expressive, black-voiced Alberich and Lennart Forsén once again proved that he must be counted among the best basso cantante singers around. He has little opportunity to show this as Fafner, where the main task is to sound as nasty as possible, but after Siegfried has penetrated his heart his last utterances are filled with melancholy and warmth. Anna Larsson’s warm and beautiful contralto makes her an ideal Erda, and her tall appearance adds to this impression. Marianne Hellgren Staykov was a really lovely Waldvogel, fluttering her wings and moving her head very bird-like.

 




And what about Brünnhilde? In this opera we have to wait for her almost five hours until the very last scene, but when Katarina Dalayman at last was liberated from her shield and armour she was just as impressive as in Die Walküre. Her voice is not of that larger-than-life size of some famous dramatic sopranos but it has a glow of its own, it has beauty and she is an expressive singer and actress. That final scene contains some of most beautiful music Wagner ever wrote and she sang it with great feeling.

 

 

This was another feather in the cap for all involved in this Ring cycle. We’ll have to wait a full year for the Götterdämmerung, but in the meantime I recommend every Wagner lover – and haters, too – see this Siegfried and the previous two instalments. There are not too many performances planned and they tend to sell out quickly so don’t wait too long.

 

 

Göran Forsling

 

 

Photographs © Mats Bäcker

 


 



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)