Richard Bradshaw
Canadian Opera Company Orchestra
15 September 2006
Four Seasons Centre Opera House Toronto
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedChristian Franz
MimeRobert Künzli
WotanPēteris Eglītis
AlberichRichard Paul Fink
FafnerPhilip Ens
ErdaMette Ejsing
BrünnhildeSusan Bullock
WaldvogelLaura Whalen

The Ring rolls on

The first act of the Girard/Levine Siegfried opens an a dark stage with a tree trunk in the centre, upon which sits a pyjama-clad man, who turns out to be Siegfried himself (Christian Franz). Funnelling up from the top of his head and widening gradually to the full width of the stage is an open structure containing much of the detritus that littered the stage floor in Die Walküre – portions of the Valhalla model, blackened girders, shroud-wrapped corpses – and human figures. Some of these are mannequins while others are dancers who become animated during those stretches of narration when past events are recounted, such as the death of Siegfried’s mother. Their movements however are restricted due to their being suspended amidst the myriad design elements. Mime (Robert Künzli) makes his arrival by being lowered down through this structure. This seems to indicate that everything is happening in Siegfried’s head, and he remains on the stump during the Mime-Wanderer exchange. Peteris Eglitis sounded still fatigued from his exertions of two days previous, giving his character a defeated air from the very start of the performance. All three singers had to battle orchestral volume during this act, with Eglitis’s voice disappearing most.

Everyone is in white pyjamas, even the bear (George Molnar) who is on stage throughout the act, tethered to the stump as a sort of guard-bear. Just prior to forging the sword Siegmund and the bear embrace. The stage picture is rendered in black and white, with occasional flashes of red. At stage left is the glowing pit in which Mime is confined for most of the act, much like a character in a Samuel Beckett play. Künzli gives us the complete Mime, but he probably could have imparted more variety into the role had he not been so constricted for such a long period. Christian Franz’s timbre does not have the baritonal tone of so many heldentenors and thus the two singers have quite similar voices, both with a “pinging” quality. More vocal contrast would have been welcome in their lengthy dialogues. For the forging of the sword flames in the form of red-lit human arms and hands rise out of the fire pit, an attractive device whose poetic gentleness fails to match the boisterousness of the music. Siegfried makes vague gestures above the “flames”, hands them the sword fragments and they obligingly hand back the completed Nothung.

In Act II, the scenery has been rotated ninety degrees and the audience views the funnell structure as if from the top. The stump (and Siegfried) are no longer on the stage floor but protruding from the rear wall of the stage. This becomes the entrance to the lair of Fafner, expressively voiced offstage by Phillip Ens. When the time comes for the dragon’s appearance, six of the dancers (with the assistance of their aerial cables) form a human pyramid which Siegmund cuts apart with his sword. They very slowly tumble to the floor in an effective Cirque du Soleil moment while Fafner voices his dying lines. The program notes “Flying by Foy” whose talents were also used for an aerial Forest Bird, portrayed by a dancer while Laura Whalen (very beautifully) sang the role. Richard Paul Fink once again gave us a strongly expressed Alberich, almost going over the top in his exultation at Mime’s demise.

In Act III to describe the stage as “dark” is an understatement. Impenetrable gloom surrounds a circle of lumpy white objects which turn out to be clouds as Siegfried ascends through them as he follows the flying wood bird toward the promised sleeping woman on the mountain top. Here is where Wotan and Erda (the warm-voiced Mette Ejsing) have their final meeting, and where Siegfried shatters Wotan’s spear with the sword that happens to be lying handily on the stage. The white objects turn out to be (yet again) pyjama-clad people being used as scenery. They stand, form a circle, and in a red light wave their arms in the air, thus becoming the fire guarding Brünnhilde. Once this task is completed, however, the director doesn’t seem to know what to do with them. They end up looking like a naval honour guard, standing in a row behind the two protagonists, then in VERY slow motion gradually fading into the stage’s black depths. This scene provides one of opera’s greatest staging challenges as two charcters destined to fall in love take such a very long time going about it. It is often remarked that a tired-sounding tenor has to keep up with a fresh-voiced soprano, but Christian Franz seems to have the rare stamina for his role. In their final duet they were well matched and gave us an exciting conclusion to the work.

Michael Johnson | Four Seasons Centre 09/15/2006

Awaken to Siegfried’s dream world

‘I sleep near by, and I dream of nothing but crimes.” The words are those of the lawyer from Strindberg’s A Dream Play, and they sum up the situation of several figures lurking around the title character in Wagner’s Siegfried, which the Canadian Opera Company presented on Friday as an epic dream play.

The production, staged by François Girard with designs by Michael Levine, was potent music theatre when the COC first did it in 2005, and seemed even more meaningful within the company’s first performances of the complete Ring cycle. Wagner’s latent Freudianism was drawn to the fore, not to debunk the hero but as a way of digging more deeply into the themes of the composer’s magnum opus.

Wagner made memory and premonition part of his technique, filling his score with a network of motifs whose every recurrence gives new resonance to the event or idea with which they were first linked. He also gave a privileged role to sleep, as the form of life closest to death, and as a portal to realities not evident to the conscious mind.

Sleepers abound in this production, which takes place in a night-world of enacted dream and sung prophesy. It’s the world as seen by Erda, the slumbering earth-spirit whose dreams foretell the end of the gods and all they stand for.

Siegfried (tenor Christian Franz) moved through Act I as a living token of memory for others, though he was ignorant of his own story. At times he seemed a half-dazed bystander, sitting on Levine’s central tree-stump while others told what he has been or could be in the solution to their narrative quandaries. The space above his head was filled with a floating mass of broken branches, fragments of a model of Valhalla, and bodies of sleepers who sometimes awoke to mime a part in the stories being told below. This memory tree, so much more useful than Levine’s chaos of scaffolding in Die Walküre, offered a visual inventory of the misdeeds, regrets and obsessions established in the Ring’s two earlier works, and prefigured the disintegration of the existing order.

By making the stage a contemplative space, Girard emphasized a broader shift in the Ring ‘s mental climate, which in Siegfried has moved from the hope that the errors of the past can be fixed to the conviction that all is predestined. The hero ultimately overwhelms the prophetic voices around him, but he also fulfills all their instructions, without knowing why.

Franz returned to this production with a deeper interpretation than I remember witnessing in 2005. He’s a heldentenor of classic dimensions, who roared out the sword-forging scene with apparent ease, but he also probed Siegfried’s insecurities and tenderness in ways that added real depth to a character who can seem little more than a loutish cartoon.

Tenor Robert Künzli capered and cringed as Mime, playing the part with a brittle edge that jarred with almost everything in this often glacial production. But that’s as it should have been, because Mime is the outsider, trying to colonize the virgin territory of Siegfried’s mind, desperately wishing to avoid the self-revelation that is forced on him in Act II.

Mime’s glowing underground smithy recalled Levine’s representation of Nibelheim in Das Rheingold, but was a poor choice for the forging scene.

The repair of his father’s weapon is the first purposeful act of Siegfried’s life – the beginning of his adulthood – and should be more than a waving of hands over a hole in the floor.

Bass-baritone Peteris Eglitis (Wotan) performed his dialogues with Mime, Alberich and Siegfried almost as if he had taken over the ironic attitude of Loge, the fire god who in Das Rheingold coolly identifies the folly of the gods. But this guise turned toward tragedy again in Wotan’s powerful scene with Erda, a role sung in richly somnolent fashion by contralto Mette Ejsing. In the more heavily scored opening of Act III, however, Eglitis struggled to hold his own with the orchestra.

Susan Bullock awoke from Brunnhilde’s magic sleep into a beautifully assured portrayal of a woman experiencing joy, despair and devotion almost all at once. This British soprano is a real singer-actress, whose bright, well-focused voice put all the daylight into her greeting to the sun that David Finn had deliberately kept out of his restrained lighting design. Bullock’s long scene with Franz was so carefully nuanced that for once it seemed plausible that these two outcasts could bond instantly, while still struggling with the violent strangeness of the encounter.

Their final embrace occurred as if in a dream.

Bass-baritone Richard Paul Fink made a suitably acerbic Alberich, though I missed the wary bonding evident between Wotan and his nemesis when Pavlo Hunka played the Nibelung in 2005. Soprano Laura Whalen was a beautifully free-voiced Forest Bird, though she (or her double) looked tacky gliding around on wires. Bass Phillip Ens boomed out convincingly as Fafner, the dragon Siegfried finds drowsing on the gold stolen from the Rhein. Siegfried’s embrace of the last sinking figure in the seething human pyramid used to represent the dying monster was a surprise, and a moving one. George Molnar’s eloquently mimed bear seemed more essential than in 2005, as he lingered through Act I like a mute witness from the natural world that finds its voice only when the Forest Bird becomes magically intelligible in Act II.

Conductor Richard Bradshaw and the COC orchestra gave a broadly satisfying performance, especially when the current of Wagner’s score rushed on to the kind of successive culminations that only he could write. The jerky rhythms leading up to the forging scene were out of sync in parts of the band, and intonation was a little pungent at times, but it was thrilling to hear how this orchestra has grown through its intensive recent exposure to Wagner’s music.

The black-and-white tones of the production kept to the restrained palette of this nearly monochromatic Ring, giving extra emphasis to Finn’s occasional use of gold or red lighting. The ring of fire began as a cluster of white-clad sleepers who rose in a fiery glow before spreading themselves in a row across the back of the scene. Why they stayed there during the final duet I don’t know, any more than I could grasp the point of their arbitrary wandering exits. But not everything in dreams makes sense.


User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 538 MByte (MP3)
Broadcast (CBC two)
A production by François Girard (2005)
Pēteris Eglītis replaces Pavlo Hunka as Wotan
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.