Few computer games are set in forests. They are more likely played in the post-apocalyptic ruins of what once were cities. This was where director George Schmiedleitner, together with designer Stefan Brandmayr, set Oper Nürnberg’s production of Siegfried. If the Valkyries thought the forest to the east a place to which Wotan would be afraid to go, this territory, where fugitives Mime and Fafner have sought refuge, is certainly a fearful place to which our generation can better relate. The sets fitted the context well.

Vincent Wolfsteiner as Siegfried © Ludwig Olah
Vincent Wolfsteiner as Siegfried
© Ludwig Olah

There was a down-to-earth, in-your-face feel to this Siegfried that made the characters believable in their dysfunctional relationships. I could almost feel the tension from my seat. It was aided by some fantastic singing and playing: Peter Galliard (Mime) was outstanding – so expressive, masterful in his timing. He and Vincent Wolfsteiner (Siegfried), who began as a moody, heard-it-all-before teenager, got on each other’s nerves, were difficult to live with, yet magnificent in their confrontations and in their singing. The Wanderer (Antonio Yang), with red baseball cap two sizes too small, spectacles and a shopping cart, but an impressive, imposing presence, sang melodiously, effortlessly and authoritatively. He made himself at home in Mime’s untidy, fire-blackened hut, even soaking his feet in washing liquid as the Valhalla leitmotif soared in response to Mime’s third question, Mime’s voice portraying uncomfortableness in the Wanderer’s presence. A jar of ‘Nutella’ became a strange unifier – Siegfried and the Wanderer had a liking for it by the finger-full (in the genes, perhaps), and Mime spiked Siegfried’s potion in the Nutella jar. Forging Notung, Siegfried sung lustily, to end the act standing larger than life on the washing machine, brandishing his newly forged sword high above his head.

Vincent Wolfsteiner as Siegfried, Peter Galliard as Mime © Ludwig Olah
Vincent Wolfsteiner as Siegfried, Peter Galliard as Mime
© Ludwig Olah
Act II was set on a collapsed highway, under which Fafner (Nicolai Karnolsky) abided, with battered Cyrillic signs reminding us that we were in ‘the East’. Marcus Bosch brilliantly guided the orchestra in underscoring the ominousness of the site, playing menacing sounds with remarkable feeling and much vibrating brass (even the theatre seats vibrated). Rich-bassed Alberich (Stefan Stoll) entered dramatically, tripping into the stage, contrasting with the casual, relaxed Wanderer, still dragging his shopping cart, who sat reading his paper, ignoring Alberich’s rantings, until, trapping the Wanderer’s hand under his foot, he urinated on him – consistent with the sort of people this Siegfried was portraying. All done, of course, to the most edifying of singing.

The bright Woodbird (Csilla Csövari), a sweet soprano, dressed in punk black, with shaven head, black make-up, vestiges of wings, crutches and holding balloons, mouthed words to the music until she got her chance to sing – and when she sung she was great. Siegfried had a double who played the horn to raise navy suited Fafner (Nicolai Karnolsky), with a rich, enhanced, bass voice, but no match of course for Siegfried’s sword, which produced much blood, then more blood from Mime, all running down the elevated highway.

Act III was set ambiguously, possible the rear of a disused warehouse. The Wanderer, now fur coated, first drove away the desperates loitering there, then put cloth and glasses atop a cardboard box and with commanding voice, summoned bare-breasted Erda (Leila Pfiste) from an adjacent man-hole. While they both sang beautifully, their meeting did not go well.

Antonio Yang as the Wanderer, Peter Galliard as Mime © Ludwig Olah
Antonio Yang as the Wanderer, Peter Galliard as Mime
© Ludwig Olah
Throughout this performance the development of the young, obnoxious Siegfried to the confident man about to claim his bride has been highlighted. It grew as he forced from Mime information about his parents. He sang and acted with further boldness on learning about Notung, and as he proceeded to forge the sword, his voice literally swelled with pride. His demeanour changed again after defeating Fafner, and ridding himself of Mime. He became impulsive, his voice more vibrant and eager, his smile more confident. Armed with ring and tarnhelm he vigorously set upon his quest. (As he collected them the orchestra boldly reminded us of ‘the curse of the ring’). Penultimately, he encountered the Wanderer, and while the two verbally battled each other, it was Siegfried who emerged confidently victorious, casting the old man aside.

Die Walküre had ended with Brünnhilde (beautiful voiced Rachael Tovey) draped with a banner reading ‘Wir rufen dich’, on a temporary stage. It was there that Siegfried’s quest ended, as smitten by her, his development to manhood was completed. Their singing blended and complimented, displaying willing passions from their first encounter.

Surprisingly, the opera then concluded with a ‘romantic night-in’ - Siegfried and Brünnhilde, voices full of passion, together on a battered lounge drinking beer and champagne and with a packet of crisps, contentedly watching TV. What a letdown!

Throughout this opera Staatsphilharmonie Nürnberg, with many young musicians, and magnificent conducting by Marcus Bosch, has been exceptionally brilliant. It was a delight to have been present at this outstanding performance.