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"Der Ring des Nibelungen" Siegfried (1980)

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The future is in its roots in the past

Author: Dr Jacques COULARDEAU from Olliergues, France
16 July 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I will not say anything about the music and Wagner's art. I have commented upon that when I reviewed the same recording but in the CD format. I will insist here on the video side of the recording. Since it is a live recording done in 1980, the DVD is the digitalization and re-mastering of the archive probably one camera recording of the production at the time. This of course makes it rather static because the video-director decided to use the 3D processing he could use in 2005 with moderation. I would say that was a wise decision. Siegfried by Wagner is not The Matrix or Star Wars. We can really have a feeling of what happened in 1980 due to the only shooting point that was frontal and that was kept in this DVD, more or less. Boulez and Chéreau chose to make the opera a very dark tale. It all happens in dark forests, in the night, in a dark smithy, in a dark cave, in some dark castle, etc. All the characters are dressed in very uniformly brown or grey or black clothes. They all have the same kind of attire, long coats, except Siegfried, And the two women are dressed in vast robes that are shapeless and colorless. It is a tale of the night, a tale of the darkness depth of the mind that is awakening to the final scene of daybreak and daylight. The second choice was to make the singers really act their parts. That was not always easy but they were chosen for that and they all tried even if they were a little stiff at times, like Siegfried himself, whereas Mime is a lot more flexible. On this choice of the actors-singers we can regret, but that was quite difficult to do otherwise in 1980, that Siegfried is not even close to his real age which is supposed to be 15. He is at least three times that age and it shows. In the same way the Walkyrie, Brünnhilde is not exactly the age she should be in the story and her German is not as good as that of the others singers. She is not German obviously and has some problems with her vowels. But all together Boulez and Chéreau managed to get a pretty nice result, particularly in 1980 in Bayreuth. The third choice was to make things rather simple. The smithy and the hearth are both stylized and simplified. They are symbolical of what they are. In the same way the bird is nicely alive in a cage rather than on the branch and stuffed with straw. The dragon is on a chariot moved around by four or more stage operators, just a big hardly articulated prop that is replaced by a man when he is finally stabbed by Siegfried. We will say that is very symbolical or metaphorical but after all that's what the theater, operatic or dramatic alike, is all about: illusion and make believe or just the suspension of our disbelief with our eyes wide shut. The best part of this production is the effort to direct the actors as actors and to introduce in the acting enough expression to provide a meaning that is not obvious in the text nor in the music. The teenage rebellious mood Siegfried demonstrates against Mime is essentially made visible on top of the meaning of the words and music, even if Siegfried's music is quite vivacious in those moments as compared to that of Mime. That is one example. Another is right at the end when Siegfried and Brünnhilde come together in a love movement and fall on their knees, one facing the other. Three attempts of a kiss are made, two that abort and a third one that becomes an embrace. Nowhere in the text or the stage directions it is said there should be three attempts or even a kiss, even if the last two lines are sung in unison. Not only is the number particularly important and meaningful, but it is done in an absolutely convincing way that shows how Brünnhilde resists the idea, the appeal, because she considers herself as having been violated in a way, and yet she yields to the three calls from Siegfried a little earlier in this scene: "Sei mein! Sei mein! Sei mein!" It is such elements that turn this production into a very lively show that we will never see again since it is the property of Bayreuth and apparently they did not like it at the time, and what's more most of the singers are today beyond reprieve.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris Dauphine, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne & University Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines

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A wonderful Siegfried

Author: TheLittleSongbird from United Kingdom
20 April 2012

I know that that this Pierre Boulez-conducted Ring Cycle was seen as controversial at the time, and may not please everybody. However, I found myself thoroughly enjoying all four productions with Die Walkure being my favourite. This Siegfried is not as good, and I do prefer the 1990 Met and 1993 Bayreuth(with Barenboim conducting) performances. However I thought it was wonderful. I loved the costume and set design, the forest set design was like looking at a set for a sumptuously-designed fantasy movie which was an effect I loved. The stage effects are mostly good, with the conjuring of the Waldvogel(Woodbird) most effective. The dragon Fafner was decent, not as menacing as he sounded to start with but not a botched job like in the recent Met production.

With the DVD, the camera work is very good, as is the sound. The colour quality could have been brighter and clearer though. Musically, it is magnificent. Wagner's score is my personal favourite from the Ring Cycle(though Die Walkure with Wotan's Farewell has the single best scene of the entire cycle), and the orchestra are powerfully blended and play brilliantly throughout. I have seen the production criticised before for tedious pacing, perhaps because it is Siegfried is perhaps a longer opera than the previous two operas of the cycle and that it suffers due to the amount of energy the production of Die Walkure did, but I found that Pierre Boulez's conducting was enigmatic and never rushed or dragged.

You couldn't have asked for better performances either. I'd say my personal favourite individual voice was that of Norma Sharp as the Woodbird, bright, clear and pure in tone, just gorgeous. Manfred Jung and Gwyneth Jones have both been seen as controversial casting, but while I can see why I have to say I liked them both. Jung's voice is perhaps not powerful enough for Siegfried and some of his phrasing is a tad strident, not as problematic as the prologue to Gotterdamerung but compared to the voice of Jones in the final scene here he doesn't quite seem up to the music's demands. He is mostly very musical though, and doesn't resort to blustering and straining like some Siegfrieds(and Tristans) do. His acting is very engaging and natural and he does actually try to create a complex character, trying to make Siegfried go on a journey in terms of character.

Gwyneth Jones' high notes may not be to everybody's tastes, as huge as they are, and not the screeching kind of loud, they can have a tendency to sound under the note. On the other hand, it is such a powerful voice that sears with poignancy and intensity with her uttering of Sei Mein coming across as genuine. But it is her acting in the role of Brunnhilde that makes me love Jones, throughout the Ring Cycle her manner on stage is intense and surprisingly subtle too and Siegfried is no exception. Heinz Zednik is a strong Mime, though I prefer his Loge in Das Rheingold. He may have a tendency to overdo it with the acting, though this is probably compared to the more naturalistic presence of Jung, but you can tell he is very involved, he is always interesting to watch and the voice is in good shape.

Donald McIntyre is a firm and authoritative Wanderer, a powerful voice that phrases music beautifully and a compelling presence. Of the 1980-1981 productions of the Ring, I found McIntyre's strongest performance to be in Die Walkure, but he is consistently great in Das Rheingold, Die Walkure and Siegfried. Fritz Hubner is a slightly woolly but sinister Fafner, Ortrun Wenkel is a touching Erda and Hermann Becht is an effectively skin-crawling Alberich. Overall, wonderful. 9/10 Bethany Cox

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