I have a confession to make. Siegfried is by far my least favorite Ring cycle opera. It shouldn’t be: the broken sword is re-forged to the catchy tune of an epic tenor aria, a dragon is slain, and the sleeping Valkyrie is awoken to sing a powerful duet with the hero. This ought to be an excitement-filled quarter of a day. But to me, it often isn’t. Unfortunately, the current staging at the Bayerische Staatsoper did nothing to change my mind.

Stephen Gould (Siegfried) and Catherine Naglestad (Brünnhilde) © Wilfried Hösl
Stephen Gould (Siegfried) and Catherine Naglestad (Brünnhilde)
© Wilfried Hösl

The sets weren’t at fault; they were actually the best they’ve been this cycle. Siegfried lent itself well to Andreas Kriengenburg’s conceit of dancers-as-the-set. Fear was personified by writhing hands that grabbed Mime but playfully caressed Siegfried. Erda emerged from the middle of a mound of black-and-white bodies, which moved in response to Wotan’s declarations. Dragon-Fafner was a flying conglomerate of red-garbed dancers, with bass Christof Fischesser at its heart. Waving, orange-lit plastic became still and covered its bearers as Siegfried crossed through the fire to reach the top of Brünnhilde’s mountain. The Waldvogel’s trees, formed by harnessed and suspended people holding branches, were particularly beautiful.

No, I think we can blame the casting. I enjoyed Andreas Conrad’s brief appearance as Mime in Das Rheingold, but he wasn’t best suited for his larger role in Siegfried. His voice was audible but unexciting, and his exaggerated but unmotivated movement made the character very two-dimensional. It was impossible to feel sympathy with Mime or his goals. Actually, I spent Act II rooting for his rival, Alberich. Thomasz Konieczny exceeded everyone else onstage for vocal expression and sheer dramatic commitment. His mixture of haughtiness and sudden fear as he spoke to Wotan was brilliant. I only wish he had more to do! As the Wanderer, Thomas Mayer continued strongly. It was hard to see his face under his broad-brimmed hat, but he showed a solid sense of his character through his body and voice. His Wotan contained an intriguing mixture of hope and despair.

Thomas J Mayer (Wanderer) and Andreas Conrad (Mime) © Wilfried Hösl
Thomas J Mayer (Wanderer) and Andreas Conrad (Mime)
© Wilfried Hösl

Of course, Siegfried himself is the keystone of the opera. Stephen Gould is highly sought-after in the role, but to my mind, he couldn’t pull it off on Sunday. His voice could be startlingly clear and loud on high notes, but it lost power quickly as he went down the scale. Even the heroic forging song was underwhelming. His acting was also a mixed bag: his contemptuous relationship with Mime was well-played, but he and Brünnhilde has less romantic chemistry than Alberich and Wotan. And it wasn’t for lack of trying on Catherine Naglestad’s part. She sang beautifully and powerfully, with emotional shifts from attempted seduction to shame to joy. I missed Evelyn Herlitzius (who sang Brünnhilde in Die Walküre), but it was because of the excitement and unpredictability she brought to the role, not because Naglestad was short on vocal or dramatic prowess.

In the smaller roles, Qiu Lin Zhan had a nice shimmer to her voice as Erda, though she lacked the depth and resonance that Okka von der Damerau brought to the role earlier in the cycle. Christof Fischesser (Fafner) sounded appropriately intimidating and keeled over dramatically when stabbed. As the Waldvogel, Iulia Maria Dan sounded a tad off-kilter in what should have been a straightforward lyric part – perhaps she was pushing her voice too hard? She flitted about and waved her feathered fans charmingly, though.

Stephen Gould (Siegfried) and Christof Fischesser (Fafner) © Wilfried Hösl
Stephen Gould (Siegfried) and Christof Fischesser (Fafner)
© Wilfried Hösl

Whatever the cast’s issues, Kirill Petrenko and the Bayerische Staatsorchester have just gotten better and better. That holds both from opera to opera and within each work. While the initial overture promised greatness, it was the Act III prelude that blew me away with its energetic delivery and perfect balance of motifs. Within the orchestra, Samuel Seidenberg deserves a special mention for Siegfried’s martial horn calls.

Well-played music and an intriguing set are both important, but they do not an opera make. Uneven singing and acting made this Siegfried a disappointment, especially after the cycle’s brilliant Die Walküre. Let’s hope Götterdämmerung takes after the latter.