Sebastian Weigle more and more stands among the foremost present-day
interpreters of the core German repertoire, not least the music
of Richard Wagner. I was full of admiration for his unfussy
and deeply intense reading of Die Walküre. In Siegfried
the challenge is even greater with quick gear-changes between
the comic, even grotesque, and the serious and in the final
scene the erotic tension. From the darkly ominous prelude to
the glowing finale he controls the proceedings to perfection.
At the same time he manages to give the impression of improvisation,
but there are no idiosyncrasies, no clever point-making for
its own sake. Dynamics are sensitively judged, he doesn’t
over-egg the forging scene and the scenes with the Woodbird
have a charming rustic elegance. You don’t very often
find ‘charming’ a suitable word for Wagner’s
music but these scenes are charming and Weigle recognizes them
The Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester is a splendid body
with powerful brass and luscious strings. There are also fine
instrumental solos, not least Siegfried’s horn call in
the second act. Praise has been heaped upon Oehms Wagner recordings,
both by myself and by Gavin Dixon; Siegfried is no exception.
The balance is impeccable and there are very few disturbing
stage noises. I have listened to large portions of this opera
through headphones and that is often revealing. Full marks also
for the substantial ‘booklet’ with 160 pages so
‘substantial’ is something of an understatement.
There’s a long and illuminating essay entitled Wotan
and His Plans in Wagner’s Siegfried by Malte Krasting,
a detailed synopsis and a full libretto and all of this in English
translation. Add to the roster extensive artist biographies
and numerous stills from the production and even a genealogy.
Can there be any reason for complaint?
Yes. I’m afraid I can’t give full marks for all
the singing. Peter Marsh is an excellent Mime and manages to
express the many facets of this complex character without making
a caricature of the dwarf. He may not be quite the equal of
Graham Clark but his is a very vivid reading. Mime’s brother
Alberich, more downright nasty, is sung by Jochen Schmeckenbecher,
who is more light-voiced than most in the role. He is intense
and he is keen with words but lacks the evil blackness of Neidlinger
(Solti and Böhm) and Nimsgern (Janowski). Terje Stensvold’s
Wotan is just as good as he was in Die Walküre.
His is not a very large voice but it is most expressive and,
being a true baritone he negotiates the top notes effortlessly
while still having a solid bottom register. The young Ukrainian
soprano Kateryna Kasper is a glittering Waldvogel.
So far so good, then. Sdaly, Meredith Arwady’s Erda is
wobbly and Magnús Baldvinsson’s Fafner is a size
too small. Both are expressive, though, and it’s obvious
that Vera Nemirova is a good director. The whole production
is full of life. This also includes Lance Ryan in the title
role. He is expressive and I am sure he was visually pleasing
too but where is the heroic tone? At his first entrance, with
the bear, I had to consult the libretto to see if it was still
Mime singing - so similar in voice character are the two tenors.
I know that Ryan has had rave reviews in this role: on his homepage
there are numerous quotations that praise him to the skies.
They were all there in Frankfurt in November 2011 - I wasn’t
and I can only judge from what I hear. He has power, there is
no denying that, but there is also a lot of strain up high and
far too often the vibrato loosens and becomes a wobble. Windgassen
(Solti and Böhm) and Jerusalem (Haitink and Barenboim)
even Kollo (Janowski) are much closer to the ideal; Helge Brilioth
live in Stockholm 1972 was stupendous. Brünnhilde, who
has been sleeping on that rock, surrounded by the magic fire,
through most of Siegfried, only wakes to sing the 35-minute-long
final duet Heil dir, Sonne! I wasn’t very enamoured
of Susan Bullock in Die Walküre but at least the
opening phrases ring out with some brilliance. She has considerable
insight and finds many nuances to the character. Much of this
is, however, compromised by squally tone and heavy vibrato.
Thank God she is at her best at Ewig war ich, ewig bin ich
- some of the loveliest music in all Wagner.
It’s a pity that there are such serious shortcomings since
there is so much that is good. Solti, Böhm, Janowski and
Barenboim remain the overall favourites and Fisch and Haitink
are also competitive, though Haitink’s Brünnhilde
is even more wobbly.
Masterwork Index: Siegfried