Teatro alla Scala
Another part of the forest: Ryan and Kränzle in Siegfried at La Scala
© Brescia/Amisano–Teatro alla Scala 2013
The first two parts of the new Ring cycle devised by Guy Cassiers for La Scala and the Berlin State Opera (with Daniel Barenboim in the pit) offered a relatively unobtrusive postmodern framework within which some remarkable singing actors could explore the relationships among the characters they were playing. The Belgian director/designer, assisted by Enrico Bagnoli (sets and lighting) and Tim Van Steenbergen (costumes), seemed less consistently attuned to the music and text in Siegfried (seen at La Scala on Oct. 23). The high points of this Siegfried proved to be a skillfully-mimed killing of Fafner (a potent-voiced Alexander Tsymbalyuk) and an intelligently paced, poetically illuminated final scene on the mountaintop, with Nina Stemme radiant in voice and visage as Brünnhilde and Lance Ryan demonstrating appreciable physical agility and vocal resilience as a dark-haired, leather-clad Siegfried. Earlier in the opera, the character of Siegfried was not particularly well served, either by the Canadian tenor — whose timbre, when heard at full volume, seemed intermixed with the sort of base metals we associated with Mime, and who lacked proper support in soft passages — or by Cassiers. The director — as confirmed in the twelve-page program essay by Erwin Jans, which explained the production act by act — had little sympathy for the character's sublime ingenuousness, or for his total connectedness with nature. One cannot help feeling that if Cassiers had prepared for his task by roaming the forests and observing a swordsmith at work, instead of poring over the critical studies quoted in the program essay, he might have come up with a less aridly pessimistic vision of Wagner's hero. A Siegfried transposed into a computer-controlled environment is, quite simply, no longer himself, and in the technological simulation of a forest in Act II, it was, unsurprisingly, Johannes Martin Kränzle's Alberich who appeared most at ease — an impression that owed as much to the baritone's richly inflected phrasing as to the setting. Kränzle's phrasing was consistently underpinned by the strong legato that Wagner's music thrives on — a quality that was conspicuously lacking in the singing of Ryan and Terje Stensvold. A veteran singer of sturdy voice and presence, Stensvold failed to bring much nobility to the Wanderer. Peter Bronder's Mime — though an undeniably well acted portrayal — was also too monotonously declamatory in utterance, and Rinnat Moriah's Forest Bird (a role that was mimed onstage by Vivian Guadalupi) proved disappointingly metallic in its warblings.
It was fascinating, on the other hand, to observe and listen to Anna Larsson's slenderly beautiful, introspective Erda, and Daniel Barenboim — who obtains a much more inspired response from the Scala Orchestra in Wagner than in Verdi — was careful never to cover her voice. The dynamic range of the orchestral accompaniment was in fact enormous, but it was never exhibited for its own sake. The entire drama was paced as naturally as possible, making us quite unaware of the hiatus that separated the composition of Acts II and III and building up to a breathtaking climax in the final scene, in which Stemme had no trouble in sailing exultantly to the top B and C.
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