Siegfried is not the most palatable of Wagner’s opera for many. There are a lot of words and music, and yet action is limited in Act I as the story of the first two Ring operas is recapped by two participants, Wotan (now Wanderer) and Mime, while a new member Siegfried is introduced. The second act takes place in the forest as the plot to wrestle the ring from the dragon unfolds around the innocent fool. All the voices so far are male; only towards the end of the second act, a female voice (often off-stage) of the woodbird breaks in as a ray of sunshine, to presage other sunshine to come at the end of the opera, the waking of Brünnhilde.

Wagner took a ten year break between composing the second and third acts of Siegfried, and his maturity clearly shows. The third act prelude is a complex web of the Ring’s musical motifs, about ten or them, that unfolds as a symphonic piece. It is one of the musical highlights of the Ring, and Simon Rattle masterfully illuminated each and every motif, performed expertly by the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. The themes came as a series of gradual and continuous waves, with no audible breaks, and yet every note and instrument was clearly heard. It was a fitting prelude to the rest of the Ring’s drama.

The orchestral was almost flawless this evening, after a somewhat tentative beginning in the first act. There were some uncoordinated moments between the orchestra and singers, but these were quickly remedied and the rest of the performance showed an amazing interplay with the orchestra supporting the singers whose voice seemed to land softly over the instrumental lines. It is rare to experience such close connection between orchestra and voices, and to experience the dynamic and organic unfolding of the musical drama.

Stephen Gould as Siegfried is a veteran of the production, and yet this evening he seemed to find new and subtle nuances in this role, aided by the sensitive reading of the score. The first act took place in what appeared to be an industrial space with long tables on raked platforms that function as Mime’s hearth, kitchen and furnace. Tall gray walls with fans up on high surrounded the space, with a door located in the back. Herwig Pecoraro’s Mime was a perfect blend of comical and sly character, and he used his voice and body, including facial expressions, to convey the cunning dwarf. Gould’s tenor with baritonal tone had bright sheen that never faded throughout the long performance. The challenging forging scene in Act I had unusually slow and quiet moments where he sang in soft murmur. As Sir Simon urged the orchestra to increase the volume and energy, Gould responded with an exciting burst of clear high notes to end the act.

The forest of Act II had stuffed animals such as deer, gazelle and bear mounted on the three walls; green lighting indicated the locale on a largely bare stage. The giant was a large eye projected on the screen on the back. It was a nice directorial touch to bring out the dying giant, sung darkly and forlornly by Mikhail Petrenko, to come up from below the stage on a platform to rise high above before he was lowered in death. Richard Paul Fink was a vocally effective Alberich, interacting well with his brother Mime in his brief scene.

The Wanderer was magnificently sung by Tomasz Konieczny not so much as a world weary God but as a wise and keen observer of unfolding events. The role did not afford him as many opportunities to showcase a variety of his vocal colors as Die Walküre, but he made the most of the Wanderer’s majestic music. Sir Simon chose a fast tempo for the Wanderer’s scene with Erda and Siegfried at the beginning of the third act, which brought the sense of urgency to the fire music that followed. The brass played the Valhalla theme to indicate the end of Wotan’s reign as the strings introduced the fire music; the winds echoed with the fate motif as Siegfried found his way to Brünnhilde’s rock, which was simply a couple of steps on stage bare except for a slanted wall in the back and two pieces of white sculpture on stage right.  The integration of the various strands of music of the Ring in a clear and coherent fashion was truly memorable.

The final duet of Siegfried and Brünnhilde began deliberately and the pace was never hurried, as if to let their love blossom gradually. There were some quiet moments as Brünnhilde softly recalled her past and pondered her predicament. Sir Simon wove the music towards the climax gradually, with phrases never breaking but rather overlapping in the most subtle and organic way.

It was unfortunate that Evelyn Herlitzius’ Brünnhilde was not quite up to the task to match Gould’s tireless and resonant tenor. She managed the first utterance “Heil, dir Sonne” quite well with clean, delicate and yet penetrating soprano. However, her voice lacked richness to express various dynamic shadings of the character, and nuances were mostly expressed via volume changes. The final note was not quite audible.