While many patrons went back to their lodgings to call it a night after Die Walkure, many remained on the Festival ground, staking their place on the lounge chairs, resting and eating, while others walked around and admired the local smith demonstrating his craft in honour of the late night performance of Siegfried. A couple of busloads of bringing in a fresh audience arrived and the opera began as the chilly evening descended.

Thomas Gazheli (Wanderer) © Franz Neumayr | Tiroler Festspiele Erl
Thomas Gazheli (Wanderer)
© Franz Neumayr | Tiroler Festspiele Erl

Siegfried is not most people’s favourite among Wagner’s Ring operas, because of its length and the many passages of music that seem to go on forever, for example the Act II forest scene. Above all, the opera requires a singer not only with stamina to get through the demanding role whilst being on stage for most of the opera, but one with both a lyrical and dynamic vocal instrument. There are not many tenors who can fit the bill; the evening’s Siegfried, Michael Baba, made a credible effort, but fell a little short of being a thoroughly satisfying Siegfried.

Baba has a physical appearance and voice that reminds one of some heldentenors of the past. He has a strong and pleasing middle voice, as well as good high notes at the beginning; his initial call from the forest promised much, and he sang the forging song with power and clear diction. His Act I interchanges with Mime, sung by Wolfram Wittekind as a normal character, not a whiny and conniving caricature, was excellent, with Baba’s heavier tenor blending well with Wittekind’s lighter voice. While Baba maintained his strong performance through Act II, he unfortunately seemed to tire in Act III, struggling for high notes in the love duet.

The Wanderer in Siegfried sings some of the most lyrical and memorable music of the entire Ring. Thomas Gazheli, who also sang Alberich in Das Rheingold and in Götterdämmerung, was excellent, bringing true nobility to the role. His covered, warm bass-baritone easily filled the stage, and his appearance in Acts I and III proved to be focal points of the entire opera. Oskar Hillebrandt, in his brief appearance as Alberich, provided an excellent counterpoint to Mime. Andrea Silvestrelli made an excellent use of his huge, gravelly, dark bass as Fafner, and his death scene was sung with unusual poignancy.

Nancy Weißbach (Brünnhilde) and Michael Baba (Siegfried) © Franz Neumayr | Tiroler Festspiele Erl
Nancy Weißbach (Brünnhilde) and Michael Baba (Siegfried)
© Franz Neumayr | Tiroler Festspiele Erl

As almost two thirds of Siegfried has no female characters, the vocal appearance of the Woodbird is a breath of fresh air towards the end of Act II. Bianca Tognocchi was appropriately chirpy, as her double (a small white model of a bird) descended from the ceiling to guide Siegfried on his journey towards Brünnhilde. Elena Suvorova reprised her Erda, and her scene with the Wanderer was well sung and acted, as she manoeuvred her voluminous blue dress to descend from, and step back onto, the stage as she verbally engaged with and challenged the Wanderer.

Brünnhilde’s first utterance “Hail dir, Sonne!”, her salute to the Sun and as she awakens in Act III, is perhaps one of the most eagerly awaited moments of the entire cycle. The soprano must have a large, crystal-clear voice that, working with the strings and harps, must convey a true sense of wonder and joy. Nancy Weißbach succeeded in this difficult task, and was a striking, tall stage presence. Her high notes tended to get a little shrill, but she maintained her fresh singing throughout the love duet, and one wished the beautiful music could have gone on forever. Unfortunately, Michael Baba’s Siegfried could not match her clarion sound, and his volume became quite diminished after nearly four hours of singing. He nevertheless persevered and finished respectably.

Under Gustav Kuhn, the orchestra maintained its high standards, and the sensitivity and lyricism of the strings section was again notable, particularly in Act II. The winds and horn sections shone in Acts II and III. Siegfried’s Act II horn playing was amusingly and deftly handled by a solo horn of Andrea Cesari.

Michael Baba (Siegfried) slays Fafner © Franz Neumayr | Tiroler Festspiele Erl
Michael Baba (Siegfried) slays Fafner
© Franz Neumayr | Tiroler Festspiele Erl

The staging was simple but effective. Act I is dominated by boxes and cases of tin-like texture and colour representing Mime’s hut with kitchen and workshop. The forging scene saw some of the boxes lit up in red to depict fire. Several tall slabs that usually stand on both sides of the stage were lowered in various configurations in Act II to represent the forest, which was initially dark as the Wanderer and Alberich waged a verbal battle, then brightened with Siegfried and Mime’s entrance. The dragon was made up of white planks of various sizes to represent a furious head, turned red during the battle as Fafner’s voice boomed through a megaphone on top. Act III saw Brünnhilde’s bed/rock in the centre of the stage with pillows. Extras bearing torches of fire appeared as Siegfried made his way to the rock. The final duet ended with both principals standing in front of the rock. The audience cheered gratefully as they anticipated a few hours of sleep before Götterdämmerung.

***11