Siegfried

Antonio Pappano
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
Date/Location
22 October 2005
Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cast
SiegfriedJohn Treleaven
MimeGerhard Siegel
WotanJohn Tomlinson
AlberichPeter Sidhom
FafnerPhillip Ens
ErdaJane Henschel
BrünnhildeLisa Gasteen
WaldvogelSarah Fox
Stage directorKeith Warner (2005)
Set designerStefanos Lazaridis
TV directorJonathan Haswell
Gallery
Reviews
classicalsource.com

If one were being unkind, this review might start with a quote from Benjamin Britten who is reported to have said to a singer at a recording session: “If that is the best you can do, you’d better carry on doing it”. For the Royal Opera’s new production of “Der Ring des Nibelungen” continues with “Siegfried” that is the same frustrating mixture of moments of insight coupled with instances of confusing visual imagery and puzzling directorial decisions which have characterised the previous instalments of the cycle.

We first see an enclosure whose walls are surrounded by varioushieroglyphics – including Greek lettering – and mathematical symbols and formulae in which Mime is discovered brooding his situation. There is then a ‘mimed’ (no pun intended) sequence where we witness Siegfried in various stages of his youth – as a baby, child and adolescent – interacting with a clearly irascible Mime. The inability of Mime to provide Siegfried with a worthy sword is made manifest – that is the subject of the opening scene, but whether this ‘pre-history’ needs to be spelt out quite so blatantly is a matter of debate.

What was then revealed was a crashed aeroplane with bits missing and parts strewn about. It was an audacious image, but quite what it has to do with Wagner’s prescribed setting of a cave inside a forest is not very clear, save that it later served as the location from which the Wanderer emerged.

Gerhard Siegel presented a Mime who was struggling with his unlooked-for parental responsibilities and, mercifully, a character without caricature. In fact, his was an unusually sympathetic portrayal, and for all their bantering and bickering, there was a suggestion of affection – albeit grudging – between him and the impetuous Siegfried, initially at any rate.

John Treleaven was credible in appearance as it is possible for amiddle-aged man to be portraying a youth who is supposed to be probably not more than about twenty-years old. One could admire his stamina, his conviction and his entering into the physical demands of the production. But his is by no means the ‘Heldentenor’ the part demands. Whilst the voice is not exactly small, it does not have the ‘heft’ which is a pre-requisite for much of the time. Not surprisingly, it was in the quieter passages where he was at his most effective, though he certainly had amplitude to a degree for the forging-songs and he paced himself so thathe was not out-sung in the concluding duet with Brünnhilde. No mean feat in itself.

With the entry of John Tomlinson as the Wanderer (Wotan in a none-too-subtle disguise), we had Wagnerian singing of a different league.

This was full-blooded, rounded projection, with text welded to tone with inevitability, and his Lear-like appearance and demeanour were profoundly touching here and in the final act.

Siegfried’s subsequent forging scene was well-staged in context, with the aeroplane providing fuel for the furnace and real fire blazing. A pity Treleaven muffed his final, climactic cry of “Nothung” (the name of the sword), and that Antonio Pappano’s restless conducting did not lead to the inevitable release of tension in the closing pages of Act One – a passage realised supremely by Reginald Goodall.

The pyrotechnics – striking enough in themselves – were no realsubstitute for Wagner’s own stage-direction whereby Siegfried’s newly-forged sword cleaves Mime’s anvil in twain.

Act Two was staged with the kind of perception that would have been welcome elsewhere. We were not, to be sure, in a forest, but we were in a sinister location, with what looked like a damaged bridge and a pathway with scorched holes.

But the interplay of characters and the realisation of certain crucialmoments was extremely effective.

The Alberich/Wanderer scene was notable for the venomous nature of the exchanges – Peter Sidhom depicting almost unbearable frustration at his ring-less state and, seemingly, still bearing the wounds from when it was wrenched from him by Wotan (in “Das Rheingold”).

The scene changed for Siegfried’s forest musings and he was placed on a grassy mound – for once a naturalistic, and welcome, touch – and when his thoughts pondered that his mother’s eyes might have been like those of a roe, a large effigy of the latter and its mate, both white, appeared. The whole was an affecting and appropriate sight, reflecting rather than contradicting Wagner’s poignant woodland music.

Fafner’s appearance as a dragon was not, as has often been the case, a moment for hilarity, but rather was a properly horrifying image, recalling the cadavers on display in Nibelheim, and was unusually well realised technically.

Thereafter, the stage took on an almost Beckett-like bleakness, with disembodied heads (initially Fafner’s, later Alberich’s) with the exchanges between Mime and Alberich suggesting the squabbling pair in “Waiting for Godot”.

When Siegfried is enabled to understand Mime’s words of ‘double meaning’, the latter was seen wearing a rat’s head, and the fairy-tale element of Wagner’s ‘Ring’ was aptly touched upon and made manifest.

Sarah Fox was a visible Woodbird (the score indicates that only the voice should be heard), and her bright timbre was most suitable for the role, though her occasionally quivery vibrato was not always attractive.

Dramatically, the conclusion of the act was spoiled by the Woodbird remaining at the foot of the stage to blow out a candle, instead of leading Siegfried off to find Brünnhilde.

Nevertheless, this second act had dramatic frisson and character interaction which was, unquestionably, gripping.

Images from the third act of “Die Walküre” returned for the final act of “Siegfried” – principally a huge white rectangle upon which John Tomlinson was, at first, required to be perilously perched. The music depicts elemental forces at work – this Wanderer seemed to be having merely a restless night on his mattress. There were balance problems here, with the orchestra much too loud and covering Tomlinson’s summoning of Erda.

Jane Henschel appeared seated in her armchair on top of some kind of tall conveyance. Her utterances were not always as meaningful as they should be and it was not clear why the Wanderer appeared to run Erda through with his spear – in any event, it is not intended in Wagner’s drama.

Treleaven and Tomlinson sparred effectively, though the sense ofimpending calamity was not suggested from the pit.

By this stage, the rectangle had become a wall (as seen in “Die Walküre”) and the singers had to keep pushing it – though to what purpose it was unclear.

The last image we had of Brünnhilde was on a couch sleeping surrounded by her Valkyrie sisters pinned to the wall. This was not repeated, so quite where Brünnhilde was located was ambiguous. It was definitely not on Wagner’s mountaintop. She suddenly appeared at a doorway located within the rectangle/wall.

But the music tells us that Brünnhilde gradually awakes from the sleep imposed upon her by her father (Wotan) – not immediately wide-awake and alert.

Lisa Gasteen is a powerful singer – not always, on this occasion,totally in tune – and suggested the defiant warrior-maiden moreeffectively than the yielding woman.

Nevertheless, her growing ardour – and that of Treleaven’s Siegfried – was affecting, and the two drew the drama to a powerful close, though their falling together on the mattress conveniently remaining for copulatory purposes was not exactly subtle. What is definitely ‘not on’ was Siegfried presenting the ring to Brünnhilde – this is a significant moment in their scene together in the Prologue to “Götterdämmerung”.

The orchestra played well – better, I felt, than in the previous parts of the ‘Ring’ – but Pappano’s conducting continues to be deficient from the point of view of grasping the overall ‘sweep’ of the music. Some scenes were decidedly ‘choppy’, not least the final one which felt decidedly episodic until near the end.

But despite numerous reservations, the invention of Wagner’s musical and dramatic imagination shone through, and Tomlinson’s contribution alone is worth catching. The production is, on the whole, less directly – and provocatively – contradictory towards Wagner’s intentions than is the current English National Opera staging; and I am still haunted by some of those daringimages from the second act.

Timothy Ball | 2 October, 2005

Guardian

The third act of the Royal Opera House’s new production of Wagner’s Siegfried, the third instalment of director Keith Warner’s Ring cycle, is a victory for hollow style over substance, full of complex symbols but little emotional insight. Lisa Gasteen’s Brünnhilde and John Treleaven’s Siegfried fulfil their destinies together in the final scene as two gargantuan silhouettes on the revolving white square that has been a leitmotif since Die Walküre. This should be the climax of the evening, but Stefanos Lazaridis’s designs and Wolfgang Göbbel’s lighting take the focus away from Wagner’s music.

The final empty stage might have made sense in an uncluttered setting, but the earlier acts are full of hectic activity: Gerhard Siegel’s Mime wears a rat’s head when he is telling Siegfried of his plans to murder him; Siegfried’s woodland idyll is a mechanised underworld, complete with motorised deer; and Fafner’s dragon is unscary. The whole opera opens with a crashed Messerschmitt-like plane in Mime’s lair.

It’s as if Warner doesn’t trust his singers to carry the story without props; even John Tomlinson’s towering Wanderer plays with origami, a gratuitous representation of his love for Siegfried. It’s a pity, because there are fine performances, especially from Siegel’s conniving Mime and Jane Henschel’s proud Erda. Antonio Pappano leads the orchestra in a performance of impressive individual moments but unconvincing architecture. However, judging by his Walküre performances, his inter- pretation will deepen as the run goes on.

Tom Service | 3 October 2005

Seenandheard-International.com

Well, after a very cluttered Das Rheingold and Die Walküre – either the money has run out or some much needed commonsense has enlightened opera director Keith Warner to add some overdue clarity to this Siegfried, even though we are no where nearer understanding what he wants us to get from his concept. If it is a post-apocalyptic Ring – a post 9/11 one based on the skeletal remains of the fuselage of a crashed plane that is a feature of Act I – then we have seen it all better done before. (The ceiling has a hole through which the plane came which is a bit too small and like that of the Pentagon if we are to believe the conspiracy theorists about that sad September day.) Surely the runway Siegfried climbs up at the end of Act II is a slightly askew version of Kupfer’s ‘Pathway to History’ at Bayreuth in the late 1980s? So we could be in a post-nuclear bunker if the thought of that was not so passé as to make one believe Warner has something else in mind.

During the opening to Act I there is a staging of Siegfried’s development from a toddler in a pushchair to moody adolescent capable of breaking Mime’s attempts at forging him a sword. Mime’s spanking parental skills leave a lot to be desired. Swirling images of mathematical formulae hint at scientific knowledge lost, unappreciated or even abused. Mime is well … Mime, shuffling and obsequious though artfully sung by Gerhard Siegel. Siegfried’s bear is some deranged individual in mask and muzzle, even possibly a genetic experiment gone wrong and left to roam this underworld (there are further echoes of this in the Act II Dragon). Siegfried enters looking like almost the oldest teenager since Manfred Jung in the Chéreau Centenary Ring at Bayreuth. (For some reason there were several Adonis-like ‘heroes’ depicted in the programme but that Treleaven certainly isn’t!) Singing conspicuously flat and straining, it was not an auspicious start but he did get better. He is scruffily clothed with cargo trousers and Mime has a sort of tired laboratory technician look with his attire also having seen better days (costumes are by Marie Jeanne-Lecca).

This whole act itself is conspicuously flat until John Tomlinson appears in goggles as the pilot of the plane. This Wanderer with his full white beard has a certain hint of ‘Ghost of Christmas Past’ or Prospero about him and despite his stentorian voice there is a degree of enfeeblement that I hope is Warner’s direction and not time catching up with this great singer. Throughout the evening, as well as revealing a penchant for origami, the Wanderer sits down at the earliest opportunity during all his appearances.

With the Forging Scene things pick up a bit as John Treleaven (making his role début as that rare species, a British Siegfried) has harnessed his resources for this high spot and does not spoil it. He busies himself through one of the most active sword manufacturing processes seen for some time. He minces the metal, casts the weapon using a prop from the engine of the plane and there is lots of hammering – he also has time to crack an egg on Mime’s head as he cooks-up his plot to poison Siegfried. For ‘So schneidet Siegfrieds Schwert!’ he smashes the Aga/worksurface to a shower of sparks.

At the start of Act II the pathway (in Stefanos Lazaridis’s set) spirals into the distance and there is atmospheric smoke effects and lighting (by Wolfgang Göbbel). Alberich carries an open wound as a result of being robbed of the ring in Rheingold; that it has not closed makes him seem rather like Amfortas were Peter Sidholm not to look unnervingly similar to Keith Warner himself and he bitterly confronts the Wanderer. A helix (again!) of barbed wire protects Fafner’s cave, or hole in the ground. Fafner guards his treasures with the Rubik’s Cube Tarnhelm from before. Siegfried and Mime enter and for Siegfried’s ‘Dass der mein Vater nicht ist’ (‘That he is not my father’) we enter a Hansel und Gretel dream world as the stage rises to find him reclining on some grass on trolleys beneath a starry sky whilst further gurneys bring on stuffed white male and female elks … why you well may ask? The whittling of his reed pipe having been standard stuff we now have Siegfried astride the male deer and moved around the stage ‘chasing’ the Woodbird. She is a pretty young singer (Sarah Fox) with a voice to match costumed in pale combat fatigues and with a toy bird she flaps then twirls around on the end of a fishing line. This ‘twirling’ is another Leitmotif of this production, chairs and the fuel hose of the plane in Act I, this bird and a dead rat in Act II. Mime dons the head of a rat as he unsuccessfully tries to deceive Siegfried and is quickly dispatched. Fafner is the hideous head of that medical procedure gone wrong alluded to before and would be quite scary if the mechanics were smoother. Interesting stagecraft finds the cone-shaped head of Fafner appear downstage under the Tarnhelm and here Phillip Ens poignantly sings his last words ‘Acht auf mich! Siegfried!’ (‘Pay heed to me!’) There is nothing new again as the Woodbird demands the attention of the gormless ‘boy’ to move him in the direction he needs to go to find Brünnhilde – Siegfried gathers up the cuboid Tarnhelm and the Woodbird blows out the candle (lit earlier Tosca-like for Mime and Fafner) at the very last note – distracting us from the fact that after some reasonably pleasant lyrical singing John Treleaven has made little of his last moments and the start of his journey.

As Act III begins there is no loss of dramatic continuity because of the long break between acts II and III just as in the previous Walküre there is none to lose between the first two acts … and then the third. It comes from an entirely different – and better – production. The rectangular white platform/wall reappears from the previous opera against a dark cyclorama. It is said if you take from one person it is theft but if you take from everyone it is ‘research’. (I certainly know that unintentionally I must on occasions in these reviews use a phrase I will have over the years read elsewhere and filed away in my brain. But what is Warner’s excuse?) We have the red lighting from Chéreau, the panorama from Jürgen Flimm’s recent Bayreuth attempt, Götz Friedrich’s hydraulic platform from Covent Garden in 1975 via Warner’s own use of it in his Bayreuth Lohengrin, even the unseen revelation of ‘Das ist kein Mann!’ and subsequent shadow-play was recently seen in Phyllida Lloyd’s, now moribund, new Ring cycle down the road at the London Coliseum.

Nevertheless, despite a lack of originality (to which 95% or more of the audience would be unaware) it all worked stunningly well and made up for the disappointment of the rest of the evening. John Tomlinson was now in full King Lear mode (or impersonating Olivier-as-Lear) and is imperious as he strides the revolving platform before Erda, in black and seated in a black armchair on top of a black tower, impales herself on Wotan’s spear at ‘Weisst du, was Wotan will?’ The horizontal surface now becomes a vertical wall on which later there are some highly effective visual projections of passing clouds etc. Siegfried arrives and confronts the Wanderer and breaks his spear that bars the path (actually a door) to the summit he seeks. For ‘Heil dir, Sonne!’ a sickly yellow light suffuses the stage. There is a brief domestic interlude as Siegfried and Brünnhilde converse seated at a table. Aunt and nephew come together initially as giant shadows cast on the white slab before Brünnhilde races across the front of the stage into Siegfried’s arms. Then after Brünnhilde has accept Siegfried’s ring and they have declared their love the cyclorama drops and a mountaintop vista is revealed that the soon-to-be-lovers revel in as they rush to ‘honeymoon’ on the mattress (originally from Walküre) that was here flung conveniently from his platform as the Wanderer was in a rage at the start of the act. The curtain falls, as they say, not a moment too soon!

After a disastrous beginning John Treleaven can be forgiven everything for this one act alone, some fine singing with his back to us all and the strength of his final ‘Erwache’ being particular highlights. His voice does not have great volume and he is extremely sensitively accompanied by Antonio Pappano’s conducting but he is sufficiently ardent and tireless in this thankless act for the tenor. Lisa Gasteen comes into her own and excels as Brünnhilde and between these two principals there is a passion, drama and total belief in what they are portraying missing in the earlier acts. This is also true of Pappano’s conducting of his faultless orchestra (I’ll give the horn soloist the benefit of the doubt). He seems at his best in this Tristanesque orchestration more so than in the more conversational opening acts where the tempi seemed a little disjointed and the interpretation drifted without focus. Undoubtedly this will improve during the run.

Throughout, an excellent cast including Gerhard Siegel’s Bayreuth-bound Mime (he is the only German in the cast) and Jane Henschel’s Erda all benefit from the not-too-loud playing of the orchestra. Since they also seemed to have been excellently coached almost every German word can be heard unusually clearly. (I notice in Berlin that the mostly German audience are to get German surtitles for Wagner; they would not need it with these singers and conductor.)

Reviewing the cycle thus far, there are only two good acts (the III’s of Walküre and here in Siegfried) to dispel the notion that Warner has nothing new to add to the dramaturgy of the Ring, so even if ‘alls well that ends well’ it does not eliminate the thought that the director has too many voices in his head and does not have a clue which road to take in his staging that will conclude in April with Götterdämmerung. I still have not lost my feelings of nostalgia for the iconic Richard Jones 1996 Ring that was loved by too few and despised by too many.

Jim Pritchard | Covent Garden, 2.10.2005

Rating
(4/10)
User Rating
(0/5)
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
720×480, 1.9 Mbit/s, 2.7 GByte (MPEG-4)
English subtitles
Remarks
Telecast (BBC 2, 1 April 2006)
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.
Also available as broadcast