Sunday, 5 February 2017

Semperoper Dresden: Siegfried

29 January 2017

This was the final individual Ring instalment to be presented by Christian Thielemann at the Semperoper ahead of his tackling the whole lot next season (in January and early February 2018). Die Walküre was last January (or at least that’s when I saw it) and Das Rheingold in the Autumn.

It’s a shame that there won’t be a chance to experience Götterdämmerung individually ahead of the complete cycles, not least because judging by Thielemann’s approach—grandly conceived, bold, often almost fierce in its sheer sound—I suspect it will be something properly shattering.

Stephen Gould (Siegfried) and Nina Stemme (Brünnhilde) in Siegfried at the Semperoper (Photo © Klaus Gigga)

 His Siegfried certainly points that way, since it was it’s most successful in the post-Tristan ardour and pre-Götterdämmerung portentousness of Act 3. It was there, too, that we were allowed to witness the thrilling spectacle of a totally secure Brünnhilde (Nina Stemme) and Siegfried (Stephen Gould) soaring over the Staatskapelle in full flow. At this point Willy Decker’s production—a co-production with Madrid and first seen here in 2003—opened up as well to reveal blue, cloud-specked skies.

Before that, the action had often felt rather hemmed in, with the meta-theatrical conceit of the production, clearly and often cleverly presented in the first two instalments, becoming somewhat muddled. The recurring motif of theatre seats—and associated emphasis on the idea of spectatorship—turned up only at a late stage.

Here, instead, we had Mime giving lessons on a blackboard, Siegfried bringing a teddy bear in from the forest, a pretty unimpressive staging of the forging of Nothung and a confusing young Siegfried double as the Forest Bird—clearly his unconscious on one level, but also, it seemed on a rather more banal level, his dogsbody. One clever touch, though, was Fafner, Mime’s crude chalk drawing of which of a dragon coming to life impressively.

(Click to enlarge)
Musically many things were excellent in the first two acts, with Thielemann managing to get detail as well as grandeur and gravitas from his players. Dramatically things could have been tighter, though, and Gould is more persuasive as Siegfried abandons jolly japes for more serious undertakings; the voice is rock solid throughout, and, though perhaps a little utilitarian in timbre at full tilt, is capable of some lovely honeyed phrases in more reflective moments.

He had a more than worthy vocal adversary in the first two acts from Gerhard Siegel’s Mime, whose finely focused tenor would give many a Siegfried a run for his money (though happily not this one).

Gerhard Siegel (Mime) and Stephen Gould (Siegfried)  at the Semperoper (Photo © Klaus Gigga)

Albert Dohmen was a powerful Alberich, and one who, as a former Bayreuth Wotan, rather put Markus Marquardt’s Wanderer in the shade. Marquardt did a decent job as a smoothly sung Walküre Wotan, but lacked true vocal authority and presence here, as he had done in the Rheingold. Christa Mayer and Georg Zeppenfeld made up the cast impressively.

It’s the rapturous second half of Act 3 that will stick in the memory, though—the unspeakably tender winding violin line as Siegfried ascends to the Walkürenfels in particular (a match, as far as I remember, for Barenboim and the other Staatskapelle down the road at the Proms), and the stunning burst of orchestral warmth at Brünnhilde’s awakening. Moments like that—and much else we've heard so farsuggest the whole cycle could be something special. 

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