Concert Reviews | CD Reviews | DVD Reviews | Opera | Early Music | News | Film | Art | Books | Kids

15.9.05

The Chéreau Ring Cycle - Siegfried

available at Amazon
Centennial Ring, Siegfried, Chéreau / Boulez
Of the Ring's operas, Siegfried may be the least performed as a stand-alone, and probably because it propels the drama more than it contains its own. Still, endowed with enough wit, it can charm me more than either work that flanks it. The Chéreau set offers plenty of humor, but I was not entirely disarmed by it. There are moments in Sawallisch’s Siegfried, for example, that do more for me. But Siegfried does not stand or fall by how funny it is, or how cruel, but by how Siegfried sings. Manfred Jung makes a good entry, for sure, but the good impression does not last very long without reservations. His sound is loud and forceful but not always natural, and the pushing comes at the cost of the lyrical line.

In the forest, adjacent to the signs of industrial encroachment on nature, Mime forges another sword for his stepchild Siegfried. Boulez’s Mime here is Heinz Zednik, his Loge, rather than Helmut Pampuch, the Mime par excellance from Das Rheingold. Zednik impressed me as one of the finest, most interesting and most entertaining character singers I have seen in Das Rheingold, but to think of him as a Mime (especially when one expects Pampuch) took some getting used to. For Pampuch, the comically befuddled works. With the vocally splendid Zednik (how he acts with his voice!) I don’t quite buy it right away, and his routine becomes a tad slapstick.

As Mime loses the bet with the Wanderer by squandering his three questions when he should have asked how he (or who) could forge Notung, he loses claim to his life to "the one who knows no fear." A panic-stricken Mime/Zednik naturally wants to teach Siegfried fear, and if necessary off him in the process, or be killed himself by that ungrateful brat who has threatened to kill him previously, even without divine encouragement. With Chéreau, Mime is not merely evil or an innocent fool (though definitely on the fool side of things). Neither is Siegfried just the obnoxious hooligan, though undoubtedly obnoxious in his ignorance, which he flaunts rather than hides. The scene where Siegfried forges Notung with a mechanical anvil has, prop by prop, transformed itself from forest/nature with hints of industry to a little metal workshop with a hint of nature in the background. At the premiere, Chéreau’s message of the ills of industrial revolution and materialism must have seemed controversial and imposing. In 2005 the production actually comes across as borderline old-fashioned and presented with minimal subtext by Chéreau – even to those, like me, who disagree heartily with most of his premise. (Chéreau’s interpretation was not all that novel, either. A Leipzig production of The Ring – for a production in the socialist GDR, this doesn’t surprise – extolled the same theme in a Ring production a few years earlier. Both can be traced back to their spiritual fathers, Rousseau and Marx.)

Also on Ionarts:

The Chéreau Ring Cycle — Götterdämmerung (September 21, 2005)

The Chéreau Ring Cycle — Siegfried (September 15, 2005)

The Chéreau Ring Cycle — Die Walküre (September 14, 2005)

Patrice Chéreau's New Film at the Mostra (September 8, 2005)

The Chéreau Ring Cycle — Das Rheingold (September 7, 2005)

Boulez Comes Down from the Green Hill for Good (September 5, 2005)

The Chéreau Ring Cycle - The Making of... (September 2, 2005)
Before Fafner’s cave, the Wanderer (a.k.a. Wotan, the Licht-Alberich) meets Schwarz-Alberich, whose dress, identical to the Wanderer’s, only further stresses their similar, if (perhaps diametrically) opposed natures. It’s not quite as simple as God vs. Beelzebub, because both have fallen and are victim to the ring’s curse; both are compulsively drawn to it. In front of an actual bird, Siegfried tries to squeeze the birdsong motif out of his reed flute. It is, as usual, played on the English horn (Wagner wanted a specially designed alto oboe) from the pit and Jung’s Siegfried is rather an angry character. Nothing approaches the humor of Sawallisch’s Kollo-Siegfried playing the reed on stage, truly to the best of his ability, truly awful... and then, in consternation rather than anger, noting “Dieser Ton taugt mir nicht!” (“That don't sound quite right...”). It’s as close as you’ll come to a knee-slapper in Wagner... not quite so in this production, though. This missed opportunity is interrupted by Fafner’s worm very soon, anyway. That worm is a rather statuesque and silly looking dragon on wheels and otherwise not instilling much fear in anyone – least of all in Siegfried.

Save for the mechanical anvil, Siegfried turns out to be a fairly conventional affair. It lacks the ingenuity and richness of Das Rheingold which is in part due to the drama of Siegfried itself. It also exposes the vocal contributions more than in the preceding installments. With (your) eyes open, Jung is an adequate Siegfried – with eyes closed, however, his voice is notably near its limits and with the lack of mellifluosity (especially compared to a Windgassen) it can’t be – and isn’t – the last word in the interpretation of that role. I find that Siegfried can be acted all with the voices and gains the least in production over recording.

There is, after all, only so much the hero can do when he finds Brünnhilde lying on a rock (or in a burnt-out castle as here), finds to his shock that it isn’t a man, and then concludes without hesitation that it must be his mother. Not unusual in his family, this conclusion does not keep him from kissing her on the lips to waken what is fortunately not his mother but merely his aunt. (Of course, apart from Gutrune and possibly Freia, every one of the 18 other women in the Ring is – as Anna Russell has pointed out to great humorous effect – Siegfried’s aunt or great-aunt.) Siegfried, at any rate, copes with the discovery quickly and adapts to the new situation Wälsungen-style by letting nothing get in the way of his natural instinct to rape Brünnhilde on the spot. In a nod to true love he does wait, however... all the five minutes it takes the valkyrie to consent to the admittedly seductive shimmers of the Siegfried Idyll that emerge magnificently out of Boulez’s pit.

Meanwhile, looking at pictures of Jane Eaglen in Seattle’s Ring will make you appreciate Gwyneth Jones’s Brünnhilde, if the voice (slightly thinning on top, sometimes bordering on shrill) does not. As the Boulez/Chéreau Ring is a DVD, that point can’t be overestimated. (The heft of some singers – Eaglen, Marc – simply does not allow for dramatically convincing performances, whatsoever. Deborah Voigt, at least, was able to endow her characters with some grace even before she tied her stomach into a knot and losing – as we now know, thanks to Sieglinde having found her kg-lb conversion table again, 110 pounds as a result.) Jung and Jones scream at each other for another ten minutes in “Ewig war ich, ewig bin ich,” and the curtain falls over Siegfried ‘approaching’ Bruünnhilde in his natural, unrestrained way. With all the reservations – mainly about things that could be better, rather than being bad – this is still a formidable achievement and as part of the integral cycle it doesn’t let the viewer down.

No comments: