is a more-than-competent recording of an extraordinary opera.
Siegfried is structured around three sets of three conversations
with overriding themes of upheaval and revolution. The hero
rebels against his treacherous guardian to find freedom through
experience of both fear and love. And the gods' dominance increases
its downward tilt in favour of the rising power of men.
intended Siegfried to be the favourite chunk in his Ring
cycle yet it never found the popularity of, say, Walküre,
partly due to the ostensibly unsophisticated hero. Even in Wagner's
day audiences felt young Siegfried was not the most intellectual
character in the Ring. Anna Russell put it bluntly: "he’s
very young, and he’s very handsome, and he’s very strong, and
he’s very brave, and he’s very stupid".
course poor Siegfried did not exactly benefit from a liberal
mind-expanding education under Mime's guardianship. Indeed Siegfried
never sees a fellow human until the last thirty minutes of this
opera when his discovery of Brünnhilde draws new depths within
his character, in the best performances at least. And anyway,
Siegfried is not stupid, working out that Mime is lying about
his parentage in Act I. There are obvious parallels with his
character and the 'pure fool' Parsifal.
Siegfried has the heldentenor chops to stay the course with
impressive power, precise diction and legato. West batters the
anvils and sings with robust bullish power at the end of Act
I, sings with robust bullish power throughout his showdown with
Wotan in Act III and, err, robust bullish power for most of
the final love duet. To be fair, West can soften, for example
when referring to Sieglinde in Act I or upon the discovery of
the sleeping Brünnhilde, but the law of diminishing returns
means we need more such expression for powerful lines to register
fully. Turn to Windgassen (Keilberth, Testament) or Suthaus
(Furtwängler 1953, EMI) for greater poetry and dramatic curve.
is also a streak of anger in West's tone that is reminiscent
of Manfred Jung for Boulez. Listeners may miss the sunniness
of Remedios and Windgassen.
West's bullish Siegfried contrasts well with
Göhrig's smooth, snaky Mime. Göhrig resists over-egging here
and his Mime is all the more real for it. There is innate beauty
in Göhrig’s voice, expertly coloured to portray the wheedling,
whining dwarf. Yet Mime’s revealed treachery at the end of Act
2 draws Gollum-like nastiness from this singer so the listener
has full sympathy for Siegfried’s revenge.
soprano Lisa Gasteen’s ringing, warm Brünnhilde is admirably
clear and she digs into her chest voice for passionate expression.
Gasteen is fresher voiced than Astrid Varnay's fruity Brünnhilde
on Testament and Gasteen does not use Varnay’s excessive portamenti.
Yet Varnay is steadier and more thrilling when attacking or
coming off notes, particularly in the final verse. My favourite
Siegfried Brünnhildes remain Martha Mödl for expressive
intensity and Rita Hunter, who later adopted Australia as her
home, for utter radiance.
Wanderer has delicious dark metallic resonance and he shifts
colours dramatically. So it is frustrating that much of his
legato is undermined by unsteadiness. Perhaps listeners will
accept this as an aspect of the gnarled, declining God but the
character's innate authority is too often compromised. One wonders
how much effort this Siegfried would exert to wrest the spear
from his granddad?
Ranada's Erda is a treat: rich and metallic, bringing out both
Erda's increasing desperation and exasperation. Jun is a truly
terrifying dragon, a voice from the dark pit. The sonics bring
Jun more into focus as he recalls his folly in Rheingold,
as if Fafner the giant was again present. Herrera is a bright
woodbird with a welcome suggestion of avian flutter.
conducting is natural and unexaggerated, drawing warmth from
a saturated orchestral palette. Brass never unduly blare, unlike
the Solti set, but can have tremendous weight in key scenes,
such as the slaying of Fafner. A more brilliant, detailed orchestral
image, as for Levine on DG, would have helped. In this respect
Keilberth's forging scene is consistently more thrilling. Zagrosek's
Act III Prelude is a bracing renewal of energy with biting horns
and chiselled strings but the apex misses thunderousness as
the timps are somewhat recessed.
are not too forward and always clear within a dry acoustic.
Perspectives are decent overall. Stage noises add theatricality
and the few audience coughs are unobtrusive. But why on earth
did the producers sanction fade-out breaks at the end of the
first three CDs?
Naxos booklet contains cast biographies, a brief essay and a
cued synopsis. The libretto is on naxos.com but it is only in
German and with no cue points.
this Naxos Siegfried is ‘a keeper’ but not top of the
list. If Wagner's ghost were to descend and ask to hear the
best example of Siegfried on record then for sheer passion
and immersion into Wagner’s dramatic world don’t hesitate to
play the 1953 Furtwängler.
see also Review