Richard WAGNER (1813 - 1883)
Siegfried - opera in three acts (1876)
Lance Ryan (tenor) - Siegfried; Peter Marsh (tenor) - Mime; Terje Stensvold (baritone) - Der Wanderer; Jochen Schmeckenbecher (baritone) - Alberich; Magnús Baldvinsson (bass) - Fafner; Meredith Arwady (contralto) - Erda; Susan Bullock (soprano) - Brünnhilde; Kateryna Kasper (soprano) - Stimme des Waldfogels
Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester/Sebastian Weigle
rec. live, Frankfurt Opera, October-November 2011
Libretto with English translation enclosed.
OEHMS CLASSICS OC 937 [4 CDs: 50:27 + 70:33 + 50:16 + 68:43]
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 as such.
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.
Göran Forsling
Serious shortcomings among so much that is good. 

Masterwork Index: Siegfried
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