Oper Frankfurt’s Ring Cycle gained a great stride with Siegfried, which utilized the “turntable” set to tell the story of the young Siegfried and his coming of age in a most intelligent and arresting manner. The stagecraft was magnificent overall, and the orchestra played with inspiration and authority under Sebastian Weigle. Vocal performance was mostly outstanding, with the title character leading an excellent ensemble of singers. Siegfried can be a difficult opera to get through, but the evening flew by with all the elements of the opera coming together.

As the curtain opened in Act I with a quietly brooding prelude, the turntable was lit in delicate hues of green and yellow of the deep forest. The set rotated to show a “basement” underneath which was Mime’s hut and workroom. Peter Marsh sang Mime with elegance and beauty, qualities not always associated with the role typically sung by a character tenor. With clear diction, Marsh acted the part with energy and glee. From his first vocal utterance calling out in company of a bear (a bear skin here), Vincent Wolfsteiner impressed with a strong voice and easy high notes. While it took him a while to warm up, he was soon in full control of this demanding role. His voice was clear with enough heft but he was never shrill, and while he grew tired at the end, his portrayal as a reckless youth was a pleasure to watch as he ran around the stage energetically. 

The forging scene was visually stunning, with the center of the turntable set lit in bright red to indicate fire. As Siegfried sang and pounded, he was accompanied by the orchestra in an accented tempo, impressively spaced and timed. The strings, winds and brass all played magnificently. The set, turning, separating, and lit in magnificent combination of colors, together with the backdrop screen evocatively and brilliantly colored, contributed in large measure to the gripping and enjoyable music drama. The center of the turntable was Siegfried’s forging pit in Act I, the dragon’s layer in Act II, and Brünnhilde’s rock in Act III. They can be opened, closed, raised and lowered easily, facilitating an efficient stage action. The curtain was lowered only once, during the exquisitely played fire music, to lower a ring of fire from the ceiling to surround the sleeping Brünnhilde.

Siegfried is a series of dialogues, each character revealing him/herself in a chain of interactions. The production was ingenious in showing that Wotan/Wanderer and Alberich are two sides of the same coin, a greedy, conflicted, power-hungry and anxious character. Dressed alike in leather and black head cover, the two played cards while discussing Fafner and his gold, as if to test one another. Jochen Schmeckenbecher again showed in his brief appearance that Alberich is indeed one of the central characters of the Ring, with his masterful singing and acting.

Wotan/Wanderer is a vocally challenging role in the three Ring operas. As the character grows old in the story of the opera, the musical writing indicates that he sings in an increasingly higher tessitura. In Act III of Siegfried in particular, Wagner wrote a highly complex and demanding score after nearly 15 years of hiatus from Act II. James Rutherford seemed most comfortable in Siegfried, as his light-timbre bass-baritone suited the Wanderer. His extended Act I interchange with Mime was sung with good sense of lyrical passages, while he was a witty conspirator with Alberich in Act II. The two crucial encounters in Act III, first with Erda, to whom he revealed his final plan and desire of bequeathing the world to Siegfried, and finally with Siegfried, to give up his reign, were both sung splendidly and majestically; soaring lines made a thrilling arch and the voice rang out with authority.

The dragon was sung by Per Bach Nissen with appropriate gravity even though he was ridiculously dressed in a body suit showing the muscles and clad in gold chains. Meredith Arwady as Erda, in an animal fur outfit, showed off her deep and penetrating low notes. Wotan tenderly embraced sleeping Erda upon his defeat by Siegfried in a touching scene. The forest bird was sung off stage but was enacted on stage by Alan Barnes. For once, the use of a dancer in opera worked quite well, as he gracefully flittered around the stage showing Siegfried the ropes. Choreography was well coordinated with music, which made the dancing bird an integral part of the production. Rebecca Teem’s Brünnhilde was one weak link in this otherwise splendid evening, with her thin and shrill voice unfortunately failing to make the necessary emotional impact of the final duet with Siegfried.