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By Joel Kasow

LYON, FRANCE, 20 NOVEMBER 2007— ‘You need seven dancers and more than 20 extras, for Siegfried, no less! To do what?’ ‘Oh, to form an acrobatic triangle representing Fafner, and so that they can all wave their hands to represent the fire surrounding Brünnhilde’s Rock; oh, and they’re also the fire in the forge, and I mustn’t forget a pyjama party at the start of Act 3. And then they will all stand around and watch the encounter between Brünnhilde and Siegfried.’

If I were running an opera house, my response to such a request would have been a resounding negative. The Opéra National de Lyon borrowed this production from the Canadian Opera Company where it forms part of a complete Ring, but as each segment was given over to a different stage director the reasoning may have been that it could be given separately. Michael Levine’s set was dominated by a huge tree, populated with debris and personages (presumably) from the previous operas in the cycle. Certainly he had little to do as costume designer as everyone wore white pyjamas, except for a black, floozy evening gown for Brünnhilde.

Wagner: Siegfried
Opéra National de Lyon
Photo: Bertrand Stofleth

 François Girard’s production dates from 2005, but were a singer I would not hesitate to file a complaint with the SPCS (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Singers). What is the point of having Siegfried onstage throughout Act 1, a ragdoll sitting on a tree stump as the curtain rises, coming to life only when tickled by the bear. He descends for his interchanges with Mime but then resumes his empty stare throughout Mime’s dialogue with the Wanderer.

Stig Andersen is perhaps one of today’s better Siegfrieds, but his slender resources could have used a rest at that point to do full justice to the Forging Scene. And what is the point of asking Andersen to execute certain gestures and movements if they are not interiorised, so that all the audience notices is a puppet and not a character who is supposed to evoke sympathy.

Wagner: Siegfried
Opéra National de Lyon
Photo: Bertrand Stofleth

Matthew Best’s sonorous Wanderer, made up as a Kung Fu master in a low-budget Hong Kong epic, captured the god’s resignation. Mette Ejsing’s clear contralto lacked the authority and gravity that are essential to Erda. Kurt Gysen’s Fafner was amplified from start to finish, emphasizing a vibrato that may not otherwise be apparent. Susan Bullock’s heroine suffers from a tremolo on sustained high notes so that one occasionally winces.  Siegfried Brünnhilde is one of opera’s most perilous roles, but our expectations are nonetheless high.

Robert Künzli’s outstanding Mime and Pavlo Hunka’s authoritative Alberich, not to mention Louise Fribo’s Woodbird, would have graced any production of the opera. An impoverished string section (5 basses only) struggled valiantly and Gerard Korsten maintained an acceptable balance while never flagging.

Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor at Culturekiosque.com

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