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Siegfried

MUNICH
Bayerische Staatsoper
6/3/12

Bayerische Staatsoper has reached the three-quarter point in Andreas Kriegenburg's new staging of Wagner's Ring cycle. Siegfried, as seen in the Nationaltheater on June 3, saw a continuation of Kriegenburg's conceptual overview, particularly in terms of the visually imaginative. 

It has become clear that the scores of ever-present supernumeries are being used to enhance each work's psychological effect. The "supers" may lend visual insight into the soul of a character or, just as often, set the mood for an onstage encounter. The enthusiasm of Siegfried as he forged his sword was enhanced by the numerous "helpers" (unseen by Siegfried himself) who aids the young hero in his efforts. The extras became the forest in Act II; they also became a part of Fafner's face. They surrounded Erda as nether worldly protectors, their facial expressions approaching Edvard Munch's Scream;they became a living part of Brünnhilde's bed. 

What they never do is hinder a singer's acting or singing. One may find them at times superfluous, but they belong to Kriegenburg's view of the Ring legend and, in this interpretation, they are here to stay. Kriegenburg has, in fact, done some of his best staging in Siegfried. Each confrontation is dramatically precise, gesture and movement allied perfectly to musical expression. In Kriegenburg's hands, a minimum of movement turns into a maximum of drama. Whether it be the Wanderer's scene with Mime or the former's final battle of wills with Erda or Mime's jousting with his brother Alberich, each confrontation was turned into a dramatic tour de force. In particular, the long (and often seemingly long-winded) final duet was staged with immense skill. Here, with little more than a king-sized bed, white bedcovering and a red silk curtain as props, the conflicting emotions of the former Vakyrie and the inexperienced title character were so vividly brought to life that there was little chance of any letdown at all. The elements of this scene — the joy, the surprise, the fear and the gradual takeover of youthful hormones — were realized in a dramatic crescendo of consummate expertise. 

It hardly hurt the total picture that Kriegenburg was blessed with a superb ensemble of singing actors. The role of Mime has generally been well cast in the past decades, but in Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, Munich has landed one of the very best. This is a Mime whose onstage agility was matched by flawless singing and immaculate diction. Wolfgang Koch was an astoundingly good Alberich. The sheer power of his voice, combined with his range of vocal expression, rendered his performance indelible. 

As the young Siegfried, Lance Ryan amazed the audience with a stamina which held through until the final C-major chord of the work. In fact, one had the feeling that he could have kept right on singing without any loss of vocal energy. His acting reached its peak in the final scene in which the character's emotional roller-coaster was exceptionally lifelike. This was enhanced enormously by the exceptional Brünnhilde of Catherine Naglestad, whose natural radiance extended to voice, appearance and stage presence. 

As Erda, Jill Grove was a throwback to the time when the Earth Mother was sung by a real contralto. Grove was able to move seamlessly from alto depths up to a heroic A-flat, and her vocal security went hand in hand with her searing deconstruction of Wotan's self-serving argumentation. One can certainly place baritone Thomas J. Mayer's voice in the heroic category, even if his portrayal of the Wanderer had moments in which the intensity tended to flag. His scene with Erda showed him to best advantage, his voice toweringly decisive, his top notes flowing easily. Rafal Siwek was a sonorous Fafner, Anna Virovlansky a lilting and very accurate Forest Bird. Conductor Kent Nagano's reading of the score was nearly perfect in every sense, and the Bavarian State Orchestra, in fabulous form, reminded us once again that the Wagnerian tradition in this particular opera house is still alive and well. spacer

JEFFREY A. LEIPSIC

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