Metropolitan Opera Live in HD Broadcast: Siegfried
Transmission of Saturday, October 15, 2011, 12:55 P.M.
Set for the Met's new Siegfried, designed by Carl Fillion
© Yves Renaud/Metropolitan Opera 2011
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Music and text by Richard Wagner
THE CAST (in order of vocal appearance)
Mime tenor, GERHARD SIEGEL
Siegfried tenor, GARY LEHMAN
The Wanderer bass-bar., BRYN TERFEL
Alberich bass-baritone, ERIC OWENS
Fafner bass, HANS-PETER KÖNIG
Forest Bird soprano, MOJCA ERDMANN
Erda mezzo, PATRICIA BARDON
Brünnhilde soprano, DEBORAH VOIGT
Conducted by FABIO LUISI
Production: Robert Lepage
Associate director: Neilson Vignola
Set designer: Carl Fillion
Costume designer: Francois St-Aubin
Lighting designer: Etienne Boucher
Video image artist: Pedro Pires
Musical preparation: Linda Hall,
Derrick Inouye, Howard Watkins,
Bradley Moore, Carol Isaac, John Fisher
Assistant stage directors: Stephen Pickover,
J. Knighten Smit, Neilson Vignola,
Prompter: Carol Isaac
German coach: Irene Spiegelman
Production a gift of Ann Ziff and the Ziff
family, in memory of William Ziff
In collaboration with Ex Machina
Directed for Live Cinema by Gary Halvorson
HD host: Renée Fleming
This performance of Siegfried will be transmitted live, in high definition and surround sound, into selected movie theaters.
Siegfried, the third opera in Richard Wagner's monumental Ring des Nibelungen, was given its world premiere in Bayreuth on August 16, 1876. The Metropolitan Opera presented the U.S. premiere of Siegfried on November 9, 1887, with Anton Seidl conducting. German tenor Max Alvary, then in his third season with the company, was the Met's first Siegfried. Born in Dusseldorf as Maximilian Achenbach, Alvary (1856–98) was a handsome, charismatic artist who made Siegfried his signature role. By the time of his tragically early death, Alvary had sung Wagner's hero throughout Europe and North America: in its obituary of the tenor, The New York Times listed Alvary's Siegfried performances in Bayreuth, Munich, Hamburg, London, Milan, Amsterdam, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, St. Louis and Milwaukee, among many other cities. The tenor's preeminence as a Wagnerian was such that in 1892, when Covent Garden presented its first full Ring, under Gustav Mahler, the company agreed to Alvary's request that the tetralogy be presented with Siegfried first, as he wished to make his London debut as Siegfried, rather than as Loge, his role in Das Rheingold.
American tenor Jay Hunter Morris was Siegfried when the Met's new production of the opera, the latest installment in visionary director Robert Lepage's realization of the Ring, had its premiere on October 27, 2011, with Fabio Luisi conducting.
ACT I. Deep in the forest where the dragon Fafner guards the Nibelung treasure and the all-powerful Ring, Mime toils at his forge. Greedy, filled with hate but powerless himself, he is at work on yet another sword for his foster son, Siegfried. If the boy can kill the dragon, Mime will get the Nibelung's Ring and rule the world. Heralded by a horn call, Siegfried bounds in to tease the terrified Mime with a wild bear. Next he snatches up Mime's latest blade, smashes it and rages at the dwarf for his incompetence. Mime offers food and soothing words, getting only rude rebuffs. The youth knows he cannot be Mime's real son, as there is no physical resemblance between them, and he asks who his mother was. Furious at the dwarf's evasions, he grabs him by the throat and demands the truth. For the first time, Mime tells Siegfried about Sieglinde and how she died in childbirth. Siegfried is moved by the story but demands proof — and Mime shows him the fragments of Siegmund's sword, Nothung. Inspired now to see the world, Siegfried orders Mime to repair Nothung and rushes out. As Mime sinks down in despair, the Wanderer (Wotan) enters, weary from his travels, and challenges his host to a battle of wits, the loser to forfeit his head. The stranger easily answers Mime's three riddles — who lives under the earth (the dwarfs), on it (men) and above (the gods) — but Mime gives up in terror when asked who will mend Nothung. The Wanderer departs in peace, however, leaving Mime's head to the fearless hero who can forge the magic blade. Hearing distant growls, Mime panics, thinking Fafner is coming, but it is Siegfried who enters. Mime tries in vain to teach the boy what fear is and proposes an educational visit to Fafner's lair. Siegfried is all for it and decides to repair the sword himself. While he works, the dwarf prepares poison to give him once he has slain Fafner. Siegfried, flashing the finished sword, splits the anvil and runs into the forest.
ACT II. That night, in front of Fafner's cave, Alberich broods on the day when the Ring again will be his. The Wanderer enters, assuring the startled Nibelung that he is not after the Ring himself but warning the dwarf to watch out for his brother Mime. The Wanderer claims he is ready to accept what destiny will bring and promises not to interfere with Alberich's plans. He even alerts the sleepy Fafner to Siegfried's intentions. The dragon, unimpressed, dozes off again. God and dwarf disappear, and as dawn breaks, Mime and Siegfried arrive. The youth dismisses Mime, then stretches out under a lime tree to rest, becoming enchanted by the sounds of the woods and yearning for the mother he never knew. Aroused by the song of a Forest Bird, he tries to imitate it on a reed pipe; failing, he sounds his silver horn instead. This awakens Fafner, who rumbles out of his den and is slain in the ensuing battle. With his dying breath, the dragon warns his killer of the destructive power of the gold. Siegfried accidentally touches a drop of Fafner's blood to his lips, magically enabling him to understand the bird's warblings, which direct him to the treasures in the cave. Now Alberich and Mime appear, quarreling over the spoils, but withdraw as Siegfried comes out with the Ring and Tarnhelm. The bird warns him against Mime, who returns with the poisoned drink. Reading the dwarf's true thoughts, Siegfried kills him as Alberich's laughter echoes in the distance. While the hero rests, lamenting his solitude, the bird tells of a maiden who sleeps on a fire-encircled rock — Brünnhilde — a bride who can be won only by a hero who knows no fear. Enthralled, Siegfried sets out to claim her.
ACT III. In a wild mountain pass, the Wanderer summons Erda to tell him the gods' fate. She evades his questions, and Wotan resigns himself to Valhalla's doom, bequeathing to the world the redemptive power of Brünnhilde's love. When Siegfried approaches, he angers the god, who attempts to block his path, but with a single stroke of Nothung, Siegfried shatters Wotan's spear and advances.
Dawn breaks on the rocky height where Brünnhilde sleeps. Thinking he has discovered a hero, Siegfried removes her armor and is overcome to find a woman, the first he has ever seen. Now he knows what fear is, but mastering his emotions, he awakens the maiden with a kiss. Radiantly hailing the sunlight, Brünnhilde rejoices that it is Siegfried who has restored her to life. At first she resists him, saying that earthly love would end her immortality. But she realizes she is mortal, no longer a Valkyrie, and womanly ardor soon replaces all shame and fear. Bidding Valhalla farewell, she joins Siegfried in praise of love.
Wagner took more than two decades to complete his Ring cycle, a length of time prolonged by many interruptions. The text dates back to 1848, when Wagner made his first dramatic sketch of the Nibelung myth. By the autumn of 1850, he had written the text for Siegfried's Death (later revised as Götterdämmerung) and was beginning to sketch out the music when he decided to expand the drama with The Young Siegfried (as Siegfried was first called); in time, Die Walküre and Das Rheingold followed, to explain the complex myth that comes to a head in Götterdämmerung. The texts were thus written in reverse order, although the composition of the music was accomplished in the now familiar order of Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung.
Wagner was unique among successful opera composers in his transparently didactic purpose. Far from offering his audience relaxing entertainment, he set out to lecture them on the philosophy of art and world politics. The first act of Die Walküre, for example, drew Wagner into a white heat of inspiration: his personal sympathies were particularly engaged in the story of Siegmund and Sieglinde and their forbidden passion when he was at work on the opera from mid-1854 to 1856. Then involved in a love affair with Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of one of his patrons, Wagner chose to criticize the bonds of conventional marriage through the characters of Fricka and Hunding.
The popularity of Die Walküre — the most beloved of the Ring operas, and the one most frequently performed by itself — undermined Wagner's plan to have the Ring always presented in its entirety. Wagner felt that a full Ring cycle would best allow audiences to follow its lofty ideas. Among these concepts — all of them as important to Wagner's life as to his work — were the redemption of man by woman; the cleansing of the world by unselfish love; the defeat of greed, materialism and arbitrary power; and the need, both individually and on a national scale, to follow "manifest destiny."
Wagner, who visualized himself as a heroic crusader, identified with Siegfried in his search for love, his defiance of obstacles and petty interference and his unity with nature. The downfall of the gods in Götterdämmerung represents, according to Wagner, the beginning of the modern world, in which the human race must learn to control its own destiny.
Wagner's plans for the completion and production of his cycle of four music dramas were frustrated by his inability to find proper backing for such a gigantic project. In 1857, halfway through Act II of the Siegfried music,Wagner set aside work on the Ring; before he resumed sustained work on the cycle, in 1869, he completed Tristan und Isolde, the Paris revision of Tannhäuser and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and found the patron of his dreams — Ludwig II, the "mad" king of Bavaria. Ludwig's enthusiastic and generous patronage was not without its drawbacks: at the insistence of the king, Wagner's first two Ring operas were given their world premieres in Munich during the 1869-70 season, before the rest of the cycle had been completed. Wagner finished Siegfried in 1871 and completed Götterdämmerung in 1874, when plans were already well underway for the first Bayreuth festival. It was there that the world premieres of Siegfried and Götterdämmerung were presented, as part of the the first complete Ring, in August 1876. The principal cast of the first Ring, conducted by Hans Richter, included Amalie Materna (Brünnhilde), Georg Unger (Siegfried), Franz Betz (Wotan), Albert Niemann (Siegmund) and Josephine Schefsky (Sieglinde).
The first of the Ring operas to reach the Met was Die Walküre, which had its company premiere on January 30, 1885, with Materna as Brünnhilde and Leopold Damrosch conducting. The company's next Ring installments were the U.S. premieres of Siegfried (November 9, 1887), Götterdämmerung (January 25, 1888) and Das Rheingold (January 4, 1889). In March 1889, the Met presented the first Ring cycle in the Western Hemisphere. The operas were conducted by Anton Seidl; Lilli Lehmann (Brünnhilde), Emil Fischer (Wotan and Hagen) and Max Alvary (Siegfried) headed the cast.
The Met's previous production of the Ring was directed by Otto Schenk and designed by Günther Schneider-Siemssen (sets), Rolf Langenfass (costumes) and Gil Wechsler (lighting). The Schenk Die Walküre staging had its premiere on opening night of the 1986-87 season, followed by Das Rheingold (October 9, 1987), Siegfried (February 12, 1988) and Götterdämmerung (October 21, 1988). All of the premieres were conducted by James Levine, as was the first presentation of the complete Schenk Ring, in April 1989.
WHAT TO READ AND HEAR
Beginning Wagnerites can start their study of the composer concisely with Michael Tanner's Wagner (Princeton) and The New Grove Guide to Wagner and his Operas, edited by Barry Millington (Oxford); more adventurous readers will find Millington's Wagner (Princeton) and The Wagner Compendium: A Guide to Wagner's Life and Music (Thames and Hudson), edited by Millington, to be rewarding. Ernest Newman's The Wagner Operas, originally published in 1949 and now available as a Princeton paperback, remains valuable. M. Owen Lee's Wagner's Ring: Turning the Sky Round (Limelight) takes a measured, erudite look at the composer's magnum opus. Andrew Porter's brilliant English-language Ring text — intended as a "singing" translation and used as such with great success at ENO and other companies — is well worth seeking out (Norton).
The history of Wagner's Ring is inseparable from that of the Bayreuth Festival, where the first complete Ring performances were given. Frederick Spotts's Bayreuth (Yale) is comprehensive and respectful; Jonathan Carr's The Wagner Clan (Grove) is a lively history of three generations of the composer's family in and out of Bayreuth.
Most of the Ring operas have been recorded as part of complete cycles, although some notable Die Walküres were conceived as separate recording projects. The 1961 Decca Die Walküre, led by Erich Leinsdorf at his most commanding, features Gré Brouwenstijn's imaginatively phrased Sieglinde, partnered by Jon Vickers's moving Siegmund. George London offers a distinguished Wotan. Birgit Nilsson, Leinsdorf's Brünnhilde, is marginally less authoritative than in her later recording for Georg Solti. Bruno Walter's enthralling 1935 account of Act I of Die Walküre, with Lotte Lehmann, Lauritz Melchior and Emmanuel List its high-voltage principals, is available in an excellent remastering from Naxos.
In the late 1980s, while the Met was rolling out its handsome, traditional Otto Schenk staging of Wagner's Ring, the company was also at work on the Ring in the recording studio, under the direction of James Levine. Levine's studio recordings of the four Ring operas (DG) are a testament to the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra's extraordinary development into a world-class ensemble under the conductor's leadership; Levine's reading balances wit, vigor and passion in equal measure. His superb principal cast — most of them veterans of the Schenk Ring staging — includes Hildegard Behrens (Brünnhilde), James Morris (Wotan), Jessye Norman (Sieglinde), Christa Ludwig (Fricka), Matti Salminen (Hagen) and Hanna Schwarz (Waltraute). A slightly different group of principals is on hand for the Met's Ring DVDs, recorded and telecast in 1990; for example, the highly telegenic Siegfried Jerusalem, who had sung Loge in the 1988 Met studio recording of Das Rheingold, added the higher-profile assignment of Siegfried for the live telecast.
Georg Solti's Decca Ring — the first studio recording of the complete cycle, begun in 1958 and completed over a period of eight — remains one of the biggest and boldest Ring performances on disc, undeniably exciting if (occasionally) somewhat relentless in its delivery of heroically-scaled histrionics by the Vienna Philharmonic. Solti's veteran Ring cast includes Nilsson, Hans Hotter (Wotan), Régine Crespin (Sieglinde), Wolfgang Windgassen (Siegfried), Gottlob Frick (Hunding) and Kirsten Flagstad (Fricka, Das Rheingold). The chief contemporary rival to the Solti Ring is the performance by Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic, who deliver a less elemental reading than that of Solti, but one that is considerably more sensuous and radiant (especially in Das Rheingold). Bernard Haitink's studio set (EMI) is admirable for the exemplary playing of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the splendid Wotan of James Morris. Reginald Goodall delivers vigorous yet meticulous leadership of a brilliantly committed ENO ensemble in a remarkable English-language Ring, sung in Andrew Porter's translation (Chandos). Among the live Bayreuth Rings available on CD are illuminating accounts led by Clemens Krauss (1953; Opera d'Oro), Joseph Keilberth (1955; Testament), Hans Knappertsbusch (1956; Orfeo d'Or), Rudolf Kempe (1960; Melodram) and Karl Böhm (1967; Philips).
On DVD, Patrice Chéreau's revolutionary Bayreuth Ring reimagined the drama in a nineteenth-century setting; Gwyneth Jones, Donald McIntyre, Jeannine Altmeyer and Peter Hofmann are Chéreau's highly persuasive principals, conducted by Pierre Boulez (Philips). Kasper Bech Holten's Ring staging for Royal Danish Opera, conducted with masterly finesse by Michael Schønwaldt, is imaginatively detailed and refreshingly musical. Lothar Zagrosek conducts Stuttgart's controversial Ring, which fielded a different stage director for each of the four operas: Siegfried, directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito as a domestic drama with an aproned, potato-peeling Mime, is probably the most striking of the four stagings (TDK). A 1963 black-and-white film catches legendary Wagnerian Hans Knappertsbusch in late bloom, pacing Claire Watson, Fritz Uhl, Joseph Greindl and the Vienna Philharmonic in a concert performance of Act I of Die Walküre. Fritz Lang's 1924 silent epic Die Nibelungen — consisting of two separate films, Siegfried and Kriemhild's Revenge — presents a fascinating variation on the legends and the iconography that Wagner used in constructing his Ring cycle.
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