Staatsoper Berlin’s successful revival of The Ring gained further momentum with Siegfried. Visually compelling production was matched by excellent vocal performance, headed by the title character. Staatskapelle Berlin conducted by Daniel Barenboim again made notable contributions. With all elements coming nicely together, the “scherzo” of the Ring Cycle was presented here as a vigorous and playful chapter, and yet had enough gravitas to showcase Wagner’s maturing musical language and drama.
Act I featured an industrial structure of steel color with platforms and mesh floors, flanked by two tall objects consisting of large silver needles. Together they represented Mime’s hut/workroom. Projections were again prominent in the back, first of dark green forest and then growing darker with Wotan/Wanderer’s arrival, with images of his ravens. The “hut” moved imperceptibly during the act to become erect, with the floor becoming the back of the room. Siegfried forged the sword near the top of the structure, high from the floor. The projections turned red.
The trees in Act II were cleverly constructed by groups of chains that hung from the ceilings and could be raised up for the dragon scene. The lighting was especially effective. The dragon was represented both in the projection and by a large piece of projected cloth. Here the dancers were reintroduced to depict the dragon’s movements, as well as to act as Siegfried’s alter ego with swords during his confrontation with Mime. A dancer in a long white dress appeared as the forest bird, while the part was sung from off-stage.
Erda appeared on a platform covered by a canopy-like cloth that was part of a long train of her dress. Brünnhilde’s rock was a platform on top of series of steps; the love duet took place with two singers maneuvering around the structure, with Brünnhilde encumbered by the elaborate dress. The duet ended majestically with the two of them standing on top of the platform declaring their love.
The singing was of highest quality, headed by Andreas Schager’s astounding Siegfried. He has a clear and penetrating voice full of volume and heft. Youthful in appearance, he portrayed the role as an exuberant and irreverent youth, and it was a pleasure to experience a physically agile and vocally fearless Siegfried, a rare occurrence. Schager maintained his stamina until the end, and displayed some nuanced soft singing in the second and third acts.
Iréne Theorin was secure in her awakening scene, displaying remarkably rich voice from the beginning. The orchestral accompaniment throughout the final duet was often soft and sensitive, to portray the inner turmoil of Brünnhilde. Theorin showed excellent command of the complexity of the duet, which was far from the usual “who can sing louder and longer?” shouting match. In fact the music seemed to go on for a luxuriously long time, so the audience could savor the two singers at the height of their artistry.
The Wanderer was a better fit for Iain Paterson’s baritonal timbre than the previous two Wotans. In a role that involved a series of exchanges with another character, first Mime, then with Alberich, then with Erda and finally with Siegfried, Paterson was the solid rock of the evening. His voice had enough heft and color for the heroic melodies that Wagner gave to this character, and his Act III scene with Erda was especially memorable as he conveyed the mixture of resignation and hope for the future.
Daniel Barenboim began with a slow and brooding tempo but increased both tempo and volume as the action heated up in Act I. His emphasis on highlighting individual instruments continued, with woodwinds and brass delineating their melodies clearly. He never stacked individual sections on top of another, but somehow managed to find distinct voice and color for each. This was stunningly realized in the dramatic prelude to Act III, where many musical motifs are presented as a synthesis of what went on and a preparation of what is to come. I had seldom experienced this majestic music played with so many motifs clearly and distinctly delineated and expressed, and yet all coming together miraculously to create an unforgettable evening of theater and music.
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