Siegfried

Patrick Summers
Houston Grand Opera Orchestra
Date/Location
April 2016
Wortham Theater Center Houston
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cast
SiegfriedJay Hunter Morris
MimeRodell Rosel
WotanIain Paterson
AlberichRichard Paul Fink
FafnerAndrea Silvestrelli
ErdaMeredith Arwady
BrünnhildeChristine Goerke
WaldvogelMane Galoyan
Gallery
Reviews
bachtrack.com

Fear in future past: Siegfried at Houston Grand Opera

What do you call fear? It’s a question Wagner’s hero asks as he runs a gauntlet of perils with unshakable casualness in Siegfried. About to fight a savage dragon in the depths of a forsaken wood, Siegfried calls out “Here, then, is where I learn fear?” But it’s not fear that’s the real question in the end – it’s what to call love.

The third part of Houston Grand Opera’s Ring Cycle, which concludes a year from now, Siegfried is a co-production of Palau de des Arts Reina Sofia, Valencia, and Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. In line with the heavy recollections of the first act, the indefatigable Barcelona-based theater company La Fura Dels Baus brings back many familiar production favorites here from Das Rheingold and Die Walküre.

The production is a disconcerting combination of cold metallic future and Neanderthal aesthetics – a startling pairing of humanity’s beginning and its end. Siegfried, dressed in thigh-length leather and pelts, his long blond hair tied back in dreadlocks, forges Nothung, his matchless sword, against a backdrop of grinding machinery and minions in white hazmat suits. A laboratory replaces Mime’s hearth, lowered from cables with beacons of white frothy chemicals and gassy water against a backdrop of shifting screens with video images by Franc Aleu.

Vocally, it’s a demanding work especially for the tenor in the title role, and Jay Hunter Morris showed its wear. Morris caught the simpleton brawn of Siegfried well, but his voice began with a husky edge that opened up beautifully at the end of Act I only to then wane thinly. I wondered if he might be pacing his voice for the final scene with Brünnhilde, where, after four-plus hours Wagner asks a singer to belt out an opulent and tender duet, but nothing changed when the scene finally arrived.

But Siegfried welcomes back many astounding voices from operas past, a happy result of Wagner’s four-part design. Bass-baritone Iain Paterson, as the Wanderer, again performed with heartfelt solemnity and vigor. As the scheming Alberich, Richard Paul Fink crept through the second act with reliable artistry, and tenor Rodell Rosel, as Mime, embodied the slippery part with a special deviousness in his voice, which, I imagine can sound equally sweet given the talent he displayed. The part of Fafner felt far too short for the mountainous bass instrument that belongs to Italian Andrea Silvestrelli.

It was Christine Goerke, as Brünnhilde, whom I waited to hear again with the most anticipation. Rising slowly from the raked silver disc that had circled her in flames in Die Walküre, Goerke manifested the role. Brünnhilde has to transform, face an identity crisis, and give in to love in the space of a scene. Essentially, she does what Siegfried accomplishes in a fraction of the time. Goerke has an undeniable presence on stage – that talent that can’t be taught – and a remarkable instrument, more robust and strapping than you would expect from a soprano. Her voice soars with gravity; unshakable and fiercely passionate, she is the ideal Brünnhilde.

What is the Ring without a good orchestra? With conductor and HGO artistic director Patrick Summers on the podium it’s a question you won’t need to ask. Beginning with the iconic sighing bassoons over a tight drum roll, the music pushed and pulled, boiling feeling and anticipation throughout. The brass rang in golden number, the cellos soothed, and the violins, in those terrifyingly exposed unison lines, navigated through the mist like a cicerone. Perhaps the most extravagant show of talent was the French horn that danced its way through Siegfried’s bird-call with pomp and agility.

As dazzling as the production is, La Fura Dels Baus had hits and misses. The assembly line of golden bodies, supernumeraries rolled across the stage suspended by their heels, and the factory farm projections of human embryos sealed in golden eggs, was as shocking and delightfully unsettling as it first was in Das Rheingold. But the second act was a series of disappointments. The dragon was a single line of cold white diamonds locked together in a machine that waved unthreateningly. I wondered if someone got the tail but forget the rest of the body! On the screens at the end of the act, daisies floated, pink and orange and uncomfortable, as the image panned globules of blue drops to the unmistakable outline of a woman’s naked breast and torso, a dismaying visual of the waiting Brünnhilde.

A kiss and a curtain dramatically end Siegfried. After all that has passed, it makes you wonder what will come next – what is to fear in such a love? The small handful of vocal and visual mishaps aside, this production is something astounding in the opera world – rare in its balance of machines and earth, will and destiny. What do we call love? Twilight beckons.

Sydney Boyd | 17 April 2016

operawarhorses.com

Jay Hunter Morris, Christine Goerke Lead a Vocally Strong “Siegfried” Cast

The Houston Grand Opera (HGO) assembled a strong cast for “Siegfried”, its third entry in its mounting (over four seasons) of Wagner’s “Ring of the Nibelungs” in an imaginative, often visually dizzying production from Spain’s Fura dels Baus.

Jay Hunter Morris’ Siegfried
Siegfried is a role that dominates all three acts of the opera, requiring power and vocal stamina for sustained singing over the large orchestra. Morris performed masterfully, playing the coming of age of the youth Siegfried with Morris’ good ol’ boy charm, while singing Siegfried’s many lyrical passages beautifully.

Most of the characters in the Ring are engaged in personal strategems that last for decades or millenia, but young Siegfried is always in the moment, whether in boisterous play, or in the combative arguments with his guardian (the Nibelung Mime) whom he has come to loathe, or in exhibiting profound wonder about his existence and origins.

Morris convincingly projects Siegfried’s emotional yearning for information about his real mother. (Siegfried has worked out logically that Mime’s claim that he is both Siegfried’s mother and father is an impossibility, so Siegfried argues with Mime as to whether Siegfried himself is subject to the ways of the natural world.)

Morris, playing the one character in the “Ring” who is allowed light-hearted, and even comic moments, is affecting. His fashioning of a reed-flute that plays sour notes elicited laughs, as Wagner intended. (This production’s use of animal forms that react negatively to the off-key sounds parodizes Tamino’s charming of the animals in Mozart’s “Magic Flute”.)

Morris’ triumphant scenes of Siegfried’s encounter with Wotan (unbeknownst to Siegfried, his grandfather), and his bride-to-be, Brünnhilde, were among the evening’s highlights.

Christine Goerke’s Brünnhilde
New York dramatic soprano Christine Goerke’s performance was rapturous, culminating in a finely sung duet with Morris’ Siegfried.

Unlike “Die Walküre” in which Brünnhilde is a dominant presence in two acts, and “Götterdämmerung” in which she appears in three acts, the “Siegfried” Brünnhilde appears only in the final act, when she is awakened from a decades long sleep by the hero Siegfried’s kiss.

Yet, the music that Brünnhilde sings in the opera’s final scene is among the most glorious in all of opera.

Rodell Rosel’s Mime
Rodell Rosel provided a vividly acted, nicely sung, characterization of the conniving Nibelung, Mime.

The role of Mime (who appears in both “Rheingold” and “Siegfried”) is arguably the epitome of the repertory that defines the character tenor’s craft. Only the part of Siegfried is longer than Mime’s in this opera.

I have been reporting on Rosel’s evolving career as a character tenor over the past decade [see Australia Opera’s “Butterfly” Charms Pittsburgh – October 19, 2007] and recognize him as one of the handful of artists able to project memorable portraits in iconic comprimario roles.

Iain Paterson’s Wanderer
British singer Iain Paterson provided a sturdy, well-sung performance as the god Wotan, in disguise as the Wanderer. His convincing performance became, quite properly, larger than life as framed by the Fura dels Baus production.

Paterson’s Wanderer is particularly powerful in the spectacular first scenes of the third act in which projections of icy landscapes and snowy mountains accompany Wagner’s surging orchestration. These are followed by dramatic images of the rotating earth.

These lead to his scene with the earth goddess Erda, in which he reveals his willingness to let fate take its course, knowing it will lead to the destruction of the gods.

Andrea Silvestrelli’s Fafner
The Italian-born American artist Andrea Silvestrelli made a strong impression as the giant Fafner, who has assumed the form of the ferocious dragon (albeit a bit less fearsome in this production). Silvestrelli’s deep voice, amplified, projects the menace the role requires.

Silvestrelli’s height and dominating physical presence, sonorous basso, and sensitive acting have made him a first choice of many casting directors for either the roles of the two “Ring” giants, Fasolt and Fafner. (Silvestrelli is scheduled to play one or the other of the giants in “Rings” at several opera companies over the next few years.)

In addition to his encounter with Siegfried in the second act, Silvestrelli’s Fafner also appeared in the enactment of one of Mime’s question of the Wanderer in the first act.

Richard Paul Fink’s Alberich
I have referred to Richard Paul Fink’s characterization of Alberich as a “master-class portrayal”.

Although Fink’s appearances as Alberich in “Siegfried” and “Götterdämmerung” are of shorter duration that in “Rheingold”, his characterizations are always momentous and intense. Fink demonstrates his ability in a brief scene to project immediately and authoritatively the dark forces that motivate Alberich.

Meredith Arwady’s Erda
Meredith Arwady’s power and security in the lower register has garnered her important contralto assignments, including the role of Erda (who bore Wotan’s daughter, Brünnhilde).

The production focuses attention on (almost to the point of overpowering) the importance of Erda in the fate of heaven and earth. Arwady, strapped to a mechanical conveyance, delivers a striking performance.

Mane Galoyan’s Forest Bird
Houston Grand Opera Studio Young Artist sang the engaging coloratura part of the magical Forest Bird, who provides Siegfried with the information that changes the hero’s life.

Galoyan’s recent success in the lead female role in the world premiere of Carlisle Floyd’s opera “Prince of Players” was an important career boost.

The Fura dels Baus Production
The physical production from Barcelona’s has been the subject of wonder and controversy. Fura dels Baus melds state of the art projections with a basically bare stage onto which are groups of supernumerary actors, puppets and mechanical devices interact with the principal artists.

The projections require an enormous investment in lighting technology, with dazzling, often dizzying results, sometimes overwhelming in the first act.

The Nibelung Mime emerges as an operator of out-of-control technology. He hammers in time with the constant motion of valves and pistons. He seeks unsuccessfully to forge the broken pieces of Nothung, the magical sword that had been created for Siegfried’s father, Siegmund.

The scene between the Wanderer (the god Wotan) and Mime is imaginatively staged. Each asks three questions of the other, holding a representation of their opponent’s head that will be forfeited in the event of an incorrect answer.

When the Wanderer reveals to the terrified Mime that the broken sword Nothung can be reforged by a person who has never known fear (a person to whom the Wanderer commits Mime’s forfeited head), Mime enlists biotechnology to try to seek a source of fear in Siegmund’s anatomy.

The forging of Siegfried’s sword properly should be a highlight of a performance of the first act of “Siegfried”. For the forging, the Fura dels Baus created another of its brilliant images, a spherical furnace for the sword, whose glowing metal Siegfried takes to an anvil to process.

Spanish director Carlus Padrissa was the Director, assisted by Chilean Associate Director Esteban Munoz. German designer Roland Olbeter created the sets, and Spanish designer Chu Uroz the costumes. The extraordinary lighting effects were originally created by the Belgian designer Peter Van Praet and realized by Italian designer Gianni Paolo Mirenda. Spanish designer Franc Aleu created the video projections.

Morris and Goerke
I had previously reported on Morris’ Siegfried in San Francisco five years ago [see Down and Out in Zambello’s American Ring: Sly, Theatrically-Centered “Siegfried” Satisfies – San Francisco Opera, June 17, 2011]. Morris had covered the Siegfried role for the 2009 Seattle Opera “Ring” and had agreed to cover tenor Ian Storey for the role for the 2011 San Francisco “Ring”.

Lightning struck for Morris’ career when Storey withdrew from all of the “Siegfried” performances. Morris’ San Francisco success brought him to the attention of opera companies throughout the world.

In roughly the same time period, Christine Goerke began to assume major assignments in Wagner.

She is still early in her career in the three Brünnhilde roles [See Review: Houston “Walküre” Showcases Christine Goerke’s Astonishing Brünnhilde, Karita Mattila’s Stunning Sieglinde – Houston Grand Opera, April 25, 2015] but it has been these roles in which she has spent much of her time in the last several months and it will be these roles that dominate her schedule for the forseeable future.

Recommendation
One can applaud the Fura dels Baus production for a wealth of imaginative ideas and amazing technology without conceding that they have created the authoritative “Siegfried”.

The overriding reason to attend this performance is to see Jay Hunter Morris and Christine Goerke in the roles that their fame and reputation will rest upon, surrounded by excellent performances of each of their colleagues in the other principal roles and the conducting of Patrick Summers.

William Burnett | April 22, 2016

Houston Chronicle

Power of ambitious ‘Siegfried’ rings true

Building an empire can be a dirty business. Staging an opera depicting the empire-building, and demise, of gods requires ambition and stamina. Without the latter, decline is inevitable.

The Houston Grand Opera’s production of “Siegfried,” the third of Richard Wagner’s epic, four-opera Ring Cycle, shows no sign of flagging ambition, although there were a few indications of decline in a performance that is, at moments, so stellar that its nearly five hours or running time raced by.

“Siegfried,” which runs through May 1, continues unfolding the tragedy of the Norse gods as the deities’ king, Wotan, covets the power of a golden ring fashioned by the evil dwarf Alberich. In his pursuit of power, Wotan’s daughter, the Valkyrie Brünnhilde, becomes collateral damage – punished for disobedience, stripped of her powers, imprisoned in sleep and surrounded by flames.

Brünnhilde can only to be freed by a fearless hero. This is where the opera’s titular character comes into play. But before Siegfried can save her, he must first re-forge a magical sword, slay a giant in the form of a dragon, take possession of Alberich’s ring, avoid being poisoned by his foster father Mime and render the great god Wotan powerless.

“Siegfried” highlights heroic endeavor, and men dominate this production. But no man dominates more than the resplendent Iain Paterson, who reprises the role of Wotan. When he enters midway through the first act, it is as if the performance has finally begun. Richard Paul Fink, as Alberich, offered a similarly immediate potency at the start of the second act.

“Siegfried” frequently deploys the drama between duos – whether it’s between Mime and Siegfried, Alberich and Wotan or Siegfried and Wotan. Thus, while Rodell Rosel makes a wickedly effective Mime and Jay Hunter Morris an adept Siegfried, the two lacked sufficient chemistry together in the opening scene. Both also struggled not to be covered by the orchestra. For although HGO artistic and musical director Patrick Summers coaxed an exquisite performance of a glorious score from the HGO orchestra, in their zeal they frequently overplayed the singers, especially and most distractingly in the final act.

Morris was at his best as the night wore in, particularly in contemplative moments – singing poignantly of his lost mother, a pastoral bird song or the painful nature of love.

Though, in an opera dominated by men, the real standouts were three show-stealing women.

A diva should sing like she could stop the world on its axis, which is just what Meredith Arwady did as Erda – sometimes with the shimmering image of the globe as her appropriate backdrop.

Elsewhere, Mane Galoyan pierced the sky as the unforgettable forest bird who guides Siegfried.

And when Siegfried finally awakens Brünnhilde, she greets the world, singing, “Hail heaven, hail resplendent earth.” We could add, “Hail Christine Goerke.” Even after so much excellent singing, it felt is as if we had been waiting all these hours to hear Goerke bring light and life back to the world. Brava!

For Houston audiences, the story of HGO’s first Ring Cycle has also been the wonderful work of Catalonian theater group La Fura dels Baus, whose innovative production blends astonishing CGI with acrobatic assemblages of bodies. Who can forget the Rhine maidens mounted in tanks above the stage or the walls of Valhalla formed by chains of bodies in the first of the four Ring Cycles, “Das Rheingold”? Or the slowly lit torches encircling the sharply raked steel dais on which Brünnhilde sleeps in its sequel, “Die Walküre”?

La Fura dels Baus continues to make exquisite magic in “Siegfried,” from cascading images of dark post-industrial wastelands to shimmering skies and mountains. The power here is life force. The ring is pictured as a golden fetus, Valhalla as interlinked bodies, rivers as platelets. In “Siegfried” the hero mounts a small treadmill with surrounding screens offering MRI imagery and biometric readouts to track his bodily responses in a conversation about the nature of fear.

Other imagery seemed overly literal – a glowing sword or ring appeared at their mention, snapshots of Wotan and Mime’s heads on a portable tablet when they wagered their heads. A projection of clouds in the shape of naked women (with cascading daisies) seemed creepy, not surreal. As in last year’s “Die Walküre,” projections on the outer scrim were barely visible. The greatest disappointment was an oddly underwhelming dragon, which looked assembled from Ikea and wouldn’t scare a forest bird, no less a hero destined to destroy gods.

It’s as if La Fura dels Baus got distracted by their own bag of tricks.

“Siegfried” lacks the keen self-editing of “Das Rheingold.” To be fair, the score and libretto are dense, layered and frequently refer back to themselves, which encouraged too much recycling of images, props and effects from previous operas. Continuity was the goal but clutter was sometimes the result.

Everything in “Siegfried” moves slowly – forging a sword, killing a dragon, kissing a girl. But there’s no wasted time here. This powerful production witnesses Wagner ringing glorious music from each precious second.

Joseph Campana | April 19, 2016

Opera News

IN THE THIRD INSTALLMENT of its year-by-year presentation of Wagner’s Ring cycle, Houston Grand Opera (in a coproduction with Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia and Maggio Musicale) presented Siegfried (seen Apr. 23) in the ongoing Fura dels Baus Ring production, whose combination of computer-graphics backdrops and projected images, still wondrously innovative and fascinating to behold—and still featuring some must-be-witnessed performances—is beginning to show a few signs of eccentricity and clumsiness. A few computer glitches resulted in rectangular error messages within the computerized backdrop images and awkward or halting zoom effects during the cosmic perspectives of Earth and its forecast destruction.

The eccentricities of this production arise from the seeming conflicts between Wagner’s text (musical and literary) and the visual spectacle. This is an old source of conflict between Werktreue aesthetics and artistic license that must allow for some give and take. But this production took too many liberties by imposing video images of vast, dehumanizing assembly-line production—first introduced, brilliantly, to complement the Rheingold scenes of Alberich’s cruel underworld factory—to accompany Mime and Siegfried’s forest dwelling. While this reinforces Mime’s greed and sinister plans, it eclipsed the nature setting of Siegfried’s youth so essential to his character. Worse, if only momentary, was Brünnhilde’s brief interaction with her horse, Grane, which was represented here by one of the metal-stretcher-on-a-boom constructions by which the gods of Rheingold had floated about in their heavenly abode. All was well with those booms, which were moved about by unobtrusive supernumeraries, until our attention was drawn exclusively to them, as when Brünnhilde and then Siegfried turn to the stretcher-on-a-boom Grane with tender words and caresses.

The handling of Siegfried, too, seems bungled in this production. If the hero begins the story as immature, awkward and unknowing, he is not meant to stay that way until the end; but under Carlus Padrissa’s direction, tenor Jay Hunter Morris’s Siegfried—though well-sung and energetically acted—is a jolly, ungainly man-child whose series of conquests seems more like beginner’s luck than the result of fierce, youthful determination. In the final scene, this too-goofy Siegfried thus draws a bigger than usual (unwanted) laugh at the otherwise poignant moment of his first beholding the sleeping Brünnhilde and proclaiming “Das ist kein Mann!” (This is not a man); and, after her awakening, their pairing comes off as the meeting of a diva and an eighth-grader.

Such quirks stand out only because of the high bar set by the overall artistic vision of La Fura, whose triumphs in Siegfried are numerous—a forging scene with a fiery and symbolically globe-shaped furnace maintained by the minion-like denizens of the dwarf underworld; the cheery, darkly comic chef’s getup for Mime as he whisks up his poisonous potion, which makes an amusing counterpoint to Siegfried’s manful sword-forging; a looming, mechanical dragon in a De Chirico-like abstract design whose eerie menace is multiplied by the echo-enhancement of Andrea Silvestrelli’s granitic bass voice as Fafner; the creepy-crawlies at the mouth of the Cave of Envy (athletically worming supernumeraries); and a risqué but evocative backdrop vision of human-breast clouds as Siegfried, on the cusp of discovering love and erotic desire, approaches Brünnhilde’s resting place. This last detail is part of the by-now familiar technique of La Fura’s creation of a visual leitmotif design in computer-generated and light-projected images to complement the web of musical leitmotifs in Wagner’s opera. The overall effect—sometimes perplexing, often wondrous, always captivating—achieves that fusion of artistic media that Wagner had in mind for the Gesamtkunstwerk.

Among the other strengths of the performance was an enlarged HGO Orchestra, led by Patrick Summers, which featured scores of expertly played woodwind and brass solos within a satisfyingly warm, cushiony orchestral sound. Tenor Rodell Rosel deftly blended the essential elements of comic sprightliness, insidious duplicity and corrosive greed to create a colorfully absorbing Mime. For her uncanny voice-of-the-Earth soulful depth, contralto Meredith Arwady’s Erda was alone worth the price of admission. And soprano Christine Goerke, with her power, range and charisma, is no less than an ideal Brünnhilde. Such performances and such an ambitious vision of the Ring cycle more than compensate for the glitches and bizarreries of this Siegfried.

Gregory Barnett | JULY 2016 — VOL. 81, NO. 1

classicalvoiceamerica.com

Siegfried Slashes Like A Samurai In Houston Spectacle

Houston Grand Opera made a canny decision to enlist the participation of Barcelona’s imaginative La Fura dels Baus theater group in its first attempt at mounting Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle. And for its premiere staging of Siegfried, the 60-year-old HGO wisely turned to tenor Jay Hunter Morris, who seems to have become the go-to guy for that opera’s punishing title role. The result, as seen April 16 in Wortham Theater Center’s Brown Theater, was highly rewarding both musically and visually.

For the Texas-born Morris, Siegfried has been both a signature role and a good-luck charm. He first sang the part at the San Francisco Opera in June 2011. Several months later, he received international news coverage and job offers when he replaced the indisposed Gary Lehman eight days before opening night in the Metropolitan Opera’s controversial new Robert Lepage production of Siegfried. Morris also was Siegfried in the Met’s Götterdämmerung in January 2012, but Simon O’Neill, Siegmund in HGO’s Die Walküre last year, will take on the assignment when the company braves the Ring’s final opera next spring. (Additional performances of Siegfried are scheduled for April 20, 23, 28 and May 1.)

Morris’s strong, warm tenor lacks clarion ring, but its steadiness is a welcome attribute in this (or any) repertoire. In addition, he has the stamina the long and often high-decibel role requires, so one could forgive pitch shortfalls here and there. Also, he was a winning actor. Exuding youthful bravado in the first two acts, joyously striking heroic poses and flourishing the sword Nothung like a samurai warrior, he was charmingly bashful after awakening Brünnhilde, the first woman Siegfried has ever laid eyes on. (I always wonder: did the character’s startled “Das ist kein Mann!” prompt giggles in Wagner’s time the way it does now?)

Christine Goerke is anchoring HGO’s Ring Cycle, and her Siegfried Brünnhilde was effective if flawed. Like Morris, she had some pitch problems (the vaulting high notes in the rapturous final duet didn’t reach their target), and her soprano was often cloudy and gusty in music calling for purity and radiance. But she could summon up thrilling power, as well as touchingly portray the humanized goddess’s fear and vulnerability.

Iain Paterson is HGO’s resident Wotan, and his Siegfried Wanderer boasted a rich, firm bass-baritone that was weak down below but orotund higher up, and his conflicted chief god exuded stately authority. Rodell Rosel and Richard Paul Fink gave sterling performances as the treacherous Nibelung brothers Mime and Alberich, respectively. Rosel fielded a clear, pungent tenor, and Fink, sporting a spiky mohawk, produced the potent, rock-solid baritone that has made him an outstanding Alberich for years. Andrea Silvestrelli’s inky, craggy bass is ideal for the role of Fafner, the hungry dragon; Meredith Arwady delivered Erda the Earth goddess’ baleful utterances in a sepulchral contralto; and Mane Galoyan sang the Forest Bird’s chirpy lines with a plush if unsteady soprano.

HGO artistic and music director Patrick Summers etched the jaunty rhythms associated with the high-spirited Siegfried with plenty of incisive buoyancy. After unleashing a torrent of surging orchestral sound in the Forging Scene that would inundate even the most leather-lunged, fledgling smithy, he smoothly sculpted the opera’s lyrical pages and captured the shimmering transparency of the Forest Murmurs scene, as well as the exaltation of the final duet.

The imaginative production by La Fura dels Baus — devised by director Carlus Padrissa, set designer Roland Olbeter, costume designer Chu Uroz, lighting designer Peter van Praet, and video designer Franc Aleu — was a mesmerizing if sometimes puzzling mash-up of dazzling computer-generated imagery and Cirque du Soleil-like physical theatricality. Both gods (Erda and Wotan) and the bass who lent his voice to Fafner’s part snake, part praying-mantis metal manifestation were airborne on stagehand-propelled cranes, and the Forest Bird flew onstage and off like Peter Pan.

There was enough ice in Siegfried’s primeval world for several episodes of Game of Thrones. Projections on towering upstage screens helicoptered us over a snow-covered mountain range to Mime’s cave, a hellish factory where he wore a futuristic lab coat, and a platoon of masked, robot-like helpers reminiscent of Woody Allen in Sleeper buffed the floor and formed a line to do some synchronized team hammering along with Siegfried. There was also a frigid fly-over to Brünnhilde’s rock, where a bunch of seated supernumeraries holding flaming torches surrounded the sleeping Valkyrie.

When birds were mentioned during the question-and-answer game that Mime and the Wanderer play, flocks of them swarmed onscreen. Supers in skin-tight yellow body suits writhed on the floor when gold was talked about, and a black-and-white film of Sieglinde unspooled when the subject of Siegfried’s mother came up. When Mime explained fear to Siegfried, a treadmill was brought onstage for a stress test, and Mime donned a chef’s hat to cook up the poison he hopes to feed to his adopted foundling.

In Act Two, the forest clearing was represented by a giant projected mobile. Slithering gray-clad woodland creatures carpeted the stage and reacted in pain to Siegfried’s croaky reed-playing. A couple of their reptilian number were suspended from an actual metal mobile, and their brethren gave Siegfried and Mime brief rides on the contraption.

In Act Three, a huge shot of the Earth from space was shown to indicate where Erda lives. Groups of supers manipulated clusters of towering rods to indicate trees. And when water was spoken of, the screens erupted with Lava Lamp bubbles. But most of the exhilarating final duet was played projection-free.

In short, this production of Siegfried was an eye-catching expansion of the modernist, bare-stage approach created for Wagner’s Bayreuther Festspielhaus in the 1950s by his grandsons Wolfgang and Wieland. On to Götterdämmerung!

William Albright | APRIL 20, 2016

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320 kbit/s CBR, 48.0kHz, 518 MByte (MP3)
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A production by La Fura dels Baus
Possible dates: 16, 20, 23, 28 April and 1 May 2016
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.