Before I say anything rude about this version of Siegfried, I should just say that it really is very well sung. It is probably the best individual production in the cut-price Ring Cycle from Stuttgart. Perhaps it lends itself to being done on the cheap because there are just eight soloists, no Rheinmaidens, no Valkyries, no Norns and no chorus. The satellite Performance Channel is rather cheekily broadcasting this Ring in competition with the multi-million pounds of wasted taxpayers' money version from Covent Garden that currently being broadcast by the BBC.
This Stuttgart Ring does have its embarrassments, notably in its soap opera version of Die Walküre but Siegfreid works rather well given a similar soap opera treatment. Mime's cave is a dilapidated council flat that just happens to have a furnace in the corner for forging broken swords back together. Mime, engagingly sung by Heinz Göhrig, is a seedy bachelor who we first see peeling potatoes for Siegfried's dinner. Siegfried is sung by Jon Frederic West who has a pleasing heldentenor voice but whom I would back any day against Luciano Pavarotti in a pie eating contest. West seems to be a Tristan specialist and I imagine he could be quite successful in that role, wearing a long, loose robe. However Siegfried's jeans and tee shirt are not the most becoming apparel for a man his size. It is probably a mistake to have Sieg printed on one man-breast and Fried on the other so that he looks like an advertisement for Colonel Wagner's Sieg Fried Chicken.
Wolfgang Shöne has a sonorous voice and sinister presence as Wotan in a leather jacket and baseball cap. He just strolls into Mime's flat but Mime, on seeing him sings: "Who has found me here in the wild wood?" I enjoyed the three riddles scene between Mime and Wotan. This is really just back story for anyone who has not seen the first two instalments of the Ring but I liked the way they chalk their scores up on the wall as they answer each others' riddles correctly, as if they are having a game of darts.
There are effective cameos from Björn Waag as Alberich and Attila Jun as the dragon, Fafner. Fafner's cave is conjured up effectively with just a bit of wire fencing. Of course this production does not run to the expense of a dragon costume. Fafner just wears a tee shirt and jeans like Siegfried's except that his reads dierF gieS across the chest. Maybe this suggests that he is a mirror image of Siegfried, his own mental demon. Also in this scene we see the Woodbird, always my favourite character even though she only has one tune. Gabriela Herrera sings her one tune very prettily and, for some reason I cannot explain, is a blind woodbird.
The scene between Wotan and Erda seems to take place in a maternity ward, maybe suggesting Erda's function of producing daughters for Wotan to serve as Valkyries. Helene Ranada is alternately moving and bloodcurdling in this role.
Finally Siegfried bursts into Brünnhilde's bedroom, no nonsense about magic fire here. He finds none other than Lisa Gasteen who was also Brünnhilde in Covent Garden's disastrous production. Gasteen is more successful here, the smaller venue and Lothar Zagrosek's quieter orchestral accompaniment are better suited to her voice. She wears a silk negligée, slit to the waist and displays ample décolletage. Despite this, the sexually naïve Siegfried first mistakes her for a man. His: "this is no man", exclamation finally comes when he slides his hand between her thighs. The opera ends with 40 minutes of the most sensuous music ever written and in this production the sensuality gets fully emphasised. Brünnhilde gets an extra silk pillow from the wardrobe and puts it beside hers before patting the bed to indicate that Siegfried should join her. They sing their extended lovemaking duet on the bed together. How different it is from the Covent Garden production where Brünnhilde and Siegfried stand at either side of the stage as though Brünnhilde has a bad case of halitosis after her twenty year sleep. Here, Brünnhilde thoughtfully brushes her teeth before climbing into bed.
Lothar Zagrosek conducts what, to me, sounds like an underpowered orchestra. This is something I noticed in the other parts of this Ring. When the orchestra is accompanying the singers the balance is fine but when the sound should well up during the orchestral interludes it just fails to well. This one quibble aside, congratulations should go to the stage directors Sergio Morabito and Jossi Wieler for this witty, Wagner production that is a great treat, both musically and visually. Witty and Wagner, now there are two words that you do not often hear in the same sentence.
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