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Mrs Gimble is at a conference in Dublin this week so I was able to
review this recording from my collection. It is my third time round
this particular ring cycle. The first time was a life-changing
experience; the second time I was still devastated. It is only this
week, in viewing Siegfried for the third time, that I have slight
reservations. These reservations are not about the cast or the
production but with the composer. Wagner does a trick that is well
known to risqué comedians: if you are offended by the joke, it means
you understand the double entendre, therefore you are implicated.
Wagner presents us with Mime, an odious dwarf: if we protest that this
is anti-semitic we are falling into the trap of recognising the
We need not feel guilty about recognising Siegfried as a proto-Nazi, although Siegfried Jerusalem plays him more as a naughty Labrador who rushes round unthinkingly demolishing everything in his path. This time round, I had problems with the way he casually murdered Mime, who was, after all, his stepfather. I also had problems with his casual slaughter of the dragon, Fafner. I think the WWF might find that a bit insensitive.
None of this is meant to be critical of Siegfried Jerusalem's incredible performance. He sings magnificently at full blast for most of the four and a half hours of this opera. His parents must have felt very confident in naming him. Every member of the cast excels. Graham Clark succeeds in making Mime a sympathetic character, which may be why I was so upset by Siegfried's casual dismissal of him. Philip Kang is a wonderful dragon. John Tomlinson, as the Wanderer, does more acting and less singing in this piece compared to Das Rheingold or Die Walküre but his scene with Birgitta Svendén, as Erda is very touching. Gunter von Kannen, as Alberich, also has an interesting cameo reminding us that he is the Nibelung that the Ring is all about.
As I noted in my review of Die Walküre, this is a very literal production. Fafner really does turn into a dragon and the woodbird really is a bird. So you get to hear Hilde Leidland as Waldvogel but you only see a bird fluttering at the end of Wotan's spear.
The last half hour of this piece is possibly the most erotic thirty minutes of opera ever written, when Siegfried wakens Brünnhilde from her sleep within the ring of fire. Anne Evans is so majestic that she has no trouble getting away with lines such as: "Heroes humbly bowed before my virginity". She is even more magnificent in the final part, Götterdämmerung. Mrs G is on holiday in Singapore in a couple of weeks time so I hope to review it then.
Siegfried is my personal favourite of the Ring Cycle for some of the
most beautiful music Wagner ever wrote(Forest Murmur for example) and
the last half-hour is utterly magnificent with a sense of eroticism.
Having seen and being very impressed if not completely blown away by
the 1990 Met production, the 1980 production from I think Bayreuth and
the recent Met production with Jay Hunter Morris, I loved this
production and consider my personal favourite of the four productions
seen thus far.
It may not be a beautiful-looking production, in fact the Met productions I found far more visually appealing and ambitious generally, but in a way like in Act 2 the sparsity of the setting works well with the drama and Act 3 had some very interesting and suitably emotionally dizzying stage effects. The video directing and picture and sound quality are more than acceptable. Musically, I can't fault it. The orchestra are lush in parts, and foreboding and powerful in others especially with Fafner. Daniel Barenboim's conducting shows a sheer mastery of the score, with Act 3 thanks to him you can't wait to see what happens.
Although some may not find this Siegfried the most ideal if they're looking for great sets, but there are at least two assets that improve on the other productions. Especially with the design of Fafner, I found him cheap in look especially in the Morris Siegfried(oddly enough Fafner's slaying in that production was the single worst scene of any of the 2010-2012 Met Ring performances), but here he is terrifying. I also found Acts 2 and 3 riveting, not that the other productions weren't either, but here Act 2 emphasises Mime's buffoonery and Siegfried's oafishness the best I feel, and I found myself transfixed in the big final scene between Jerusalem and Anne Evans, I really believed in their chemistry and love here.
Siegfried Jerusalem is outstanding in the title role. The voice is musical and strong with no obvious signs of strain, and overall it is a very committed and dimensional portrayal, heroic yet tender. Anne Evans doesn't appear until just before the end as Brunnhilde, watching and hearing her it is well worth the wait. The singing is big and thrilling with no screeching or hollowness and she is gripping and very human dramatically. Her uttering of Sei Mein is genuinely passionate.
The rest of the cast are just as good, with Graham Clark a more sympathetic than usual yet still wily Mime. His singing is good, but the acting is what makes Clark's performance so great in this performance. John Tomlinson is an enormously resonant and truly remarkable Wanderer, with the scene between him and Brigitt Svensen's Erda indeed touching. Phillip Kang is a menacing Fafner and Gunter Von Kannen is skin-crawling in the more cameo role of Alberich.
Of the staging, other than the final scene, the stroke of genius was in Act 2 with the conjuring up of the Waldvogel, right from the enthralling stage effects, the increasingly ecstatic orchestration to the close up of Wotan/Wanderer clenching his fist to the timing of the final fortissimo clang. Overall, brilliant and a hearty recommendation. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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