Christian Thielemann
Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
30 July 2009
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedChristian Franz
MimeWolfgang Schmidt
WotanAlbert Dohmen
AlberichAndrew Shore
FafnerAin Anger
ErdaChrista Mayer
BrünnhildeLinda Watson
WaldvogelChristiane Kohl

After Rheingold and Walküre nothing quite steeled me for the big disappointment that Act I of Siegfried was to be. It continues to be exciting orchestrally and with Thielemann conducting, nothing less is expected; it is urgent, febrile and, as the evening progresses, increasingly passionate. It remains so much more than the sum of its parts – there is no glossing over even the smallest musical detail and the players play the score almost too perfectly … were that to be possible.

However, the singing never reaches anywhere near the same level. When the opera opens Mime sounds like Siegfried should and this is not surprising since it is a former Bayreuth Siegfried, Wolfgang Schmidt, singing the role. Throughout he sings Mime with unusual lyricism and always draws attention to himself on stage through some committed acting. Sadly, Christian Franz – when he first comes through the window wearing a bear’s skin – as Siegfried reins in his shouting sounds like a Mime usually does. Albert Dohmen was the curmudgeonly Wanderer: there was still a certain roughness to his voice in my opinion and some cloudy diction (I heard ‘Haupt’ every so often and not much else).

Clearly, in this production we are in an abandoned old school room with a blackboard and slide projector, full of text and exercise books. At the front desk is some chemistry paraphernalia where Mime does the cooking for Siegfried. Siegfried’s cot is still there and so is his teddy bear. Tankred Dorst seems to have forgotten that Siegfried is probably about 18 years old – and so has Christian Franz because together they present him as a rather boorish, mentally challenged, adult who has failed to relinquish his teenage years.

Little out of the ordinary happens on stage in this Act until the ‘forging song’ when Siegfried throws a fit. He tries – and fails – to fling the teddy out of a window and then smashes up his far-from-happy home with an upright from his cot literally causing sparks to fly. According to Dorst this is so that his new life, as symbolised by the sword, can be magically fashioned. I first saw this use of alchemy and transformation in Phyllida Lloyd’s abandoned Ring cycle at English National Opera when it was done rather better. As then, the sword is left to smelt itself but Siegfried finishes it off by tapping on the handle before slicing off the top of a large globe at ‘So schneidet Siegfrieds Schwert!’ Christian Franz threw himself into all this with commendable enthusiasm but at the expense of any of the vocal refinement that is possible even in this difficult role.

What could be expected for Act II? There was a simple setting of an unfinished motorway flyover in a cut-down forest; but this time there was the clear and simple storytelling that this opera needs. Perhaps there is the equivalent of the football half-time pep talk in opera, because suddenly Franz’s voice found much of the elegance and flexibility it had lacked earlier. His acting too gained another dimension with some added humour – while fashioning his instrument to answer the Woodbird – and some subtle pathos as he grieved over the death of his mother and for Fafner whom he would have to kill. This gave the Act a significant anti-violence message to add to an ecological one.

The fight with Ain Anger’s suitably menacing but affecting Fafner was well staged. A smoky cleft opened in the ground to reveal the giant in his normal form. By the time a winged figure appeared on top of the concrete construction to represent the Woodbird (sung offstage with a rather shrill voice by Christiane Kohl) I was transfixed. Albert Dohmen’s voice for The Wanderer now found much more focus, Andrew Shore continued to impress as Alberich and Wolfgang Schmidt tamed his Heldentenor urges to give vent to all of Mime’s duplicity.

The final Act contained nothing that those wishing for ‘traditional’ re-enactments of these operas could object too. Dorst’s over-arching concept of the ‘gods amongst us’ had been virtually ignored so far, apart from some inquisitive children in Act I looking in at Mime’s window, some ‘Men at Work’ and a few more children among the tree stumps – including that boy in the striped T- shirt – in Act II.

This Wanderer confronts Erda behind a scrim in blue haze : and Erda is well sung again by the rounded contralto tones of Christa Mayer. The Wanderer then confronts Siegfried on the upper level opening of Die Walküre’s Act III stone quarry before sloping away defeated; with the curtain coming down again to allow us to concentrate on the atmosphere that Christian Thielemann will create for the final scene. The Act had begun with a stirring ‘Wotans Ritt’ and with Thielemann there are never any disjointed moments. There are however some moments of stasis such as when The Wanderer’s spear is broken on Siegfried’s sword; but there is never the feeling that the music has actually stopped: a hidden, compulsive momentum is always present.

Christian Franz phrases ‘Selige Öde’ as well as could be hoped for and now acts the part of the embarrassed inadequate suitor very well, even to the extent of awakening the sleeping woman with a chaste kiss on the hand. On the cusp of winning her over, he starts to offer her presents; including what looked to me like a dead bird but hopefully not the Woodbird that took him to her rock! Linda Watson’s lacks a certain culminating warmth as the warrior maid Brünnhilde, awakening to human love, but aided by Franz’s now almost Italianate fervour, together they bring this Act to a triumphant – and surprisingly optimistic – conclusion against a dark starry sky for a backdrop.

Jim Pritchard | Bayreuth Festspielhaus, 10.8.09

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 547 MiB (MP3)
Broadcast from the Bayreuth festival
A production by Tankred Dorst (2006)
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.