The Hungarian State Opera’s new Ring has reached its third year and with it, the tale of the hero who knows no fear. While Géza M. Tóth’s production still leaves a lot to be desired, the performances on the opening night were generally strong, Egils Silins and Eszter Sümegi standing out in particular.

<i>Siegfried</i> © Szilvia Csibi
Siegfried
© Szilvia Csibi

The première saw the debut of István Kovácsházi in the role of Siegfried, and while he was a wonderful Siegmund last year, this role did not feel like such a good fit for him. For most of Act 1, he struggled to be heard above the orchestra which made the forging scene underwhelming and his portrayal of the exuberant young hero unconvincing. He fared better in Act 2, delivering a touching and lyrical rendition of Siegfried’s monologue, and he could hold his own against Sümegi’s Brünnhilde in Act 3, but on the whole, he couldn’t quite live up to the admittedly strenuous demands of the role, though his performance was well received by the audience.

The Wanderer was sung by a veteran of the role, Egils Silins ruling the stage, his smooth, sonorous bass-baritone unfaltering throughout, delivering the best performance of the night. His portrayal was fascinating, showing off confidence and almost mischievous glee when dealing with Alberich and Mime, but quickly turning to confusion and despair in Act 3, his loss of power acutely felt.

Jürgen Sacher (Mime) and Egils Silins (The Wanderer) © Szilvia Csibi
Jürgen Sacher (Mime) and Egils Silins (The Wanderer)
© Szilvia Csibi

Eszter Sümegi, last year's Sieglinde, was outstanding as Brünnhilde, utterly arresting from the very first note she sang. She had no problems with volume, riding over the orchestra with ease, her gleaming soprano strong and thrilling, but easily reined in for softer passages.

Marcus Jupither’s Alberich was equally well-sung, his ink-black baritone suitably malicious and contrasting well with Silins’ brighter tone. Jürgen Sacher’s Mime was vividly characterized and well delivered for the most, though at times his voice was quite rough and he had problems projecting. István Rácz was an outstanding Fafner, his stentorian bass conveying all the menace of the dragon even though he only got to appear in the form of the giant. Erika Gál made for a compelling Erda, and pearly-voiced Zita Szemere was delightful as the Forest Bird.

István Kovácsházi (Siegfried) and Zita Szemere (Woodbird) © Szilvia Csibi
István Kovácsházi (Siegfried) and Zita Szemere (Woodbird)
© Szilvia Csibi

Just as in last year’s Walküre, Péter Halász conducted with verve and energy, drawing a full, luxuriously colored sound from the orchestra, producing a marvellously clear musical texture. It's a shame that he is not currently scheduled to conduct Götterdämmerung next season.

As for the staging, there are some considerable improvements from last season's Walküre: the stage machinery is a lot less intrusive and the set is easier to navigate, but M. Tóth’s production remains overly focused on arresting visuals at the expense of engaging storytelling and clearly drawn characterizations. It’s all the more annoying, then, that his visual presentation is jarringly inconsistent. The projected animations (desgined by KEDD Animation Studio) include everything from geometrical forms, molecules and images of nature to German Expressionist designs, rarely with any sense as to why they are chosen to accompany the given scenes, and while the projections in Act 1 serve well in creating contrasting atmospheres, they proved to be superfluous in the following acts. The dancers introduced in the last scene of Act 3 were also completely unnecessary, distracting rather than enriching the scene.

Jürgen Sacher (Mime) and Egils Silins (The Wanderer) © Szilvia Csibi
Jürgen Sacher (Mime) and Egils Silins (The Wanderer)
© Szilvia Csibi

There is a lack of consistency in the overarching concept as well: the critique of consumerism and materialism prominent in Walküre, is entirely absent from this Siegfried, rather strangely, given how much of the action in the opera is focused on the possession of the Nibelung treasure. It also makes it all the more incongruous when images of oil fields and factories suddenly appear during the prelude of Act 3, the only passing reference to this concept.

Gergely Zöldy Z’s set designs are eclectic, using a mixture of fantasy and post-apocalyptic landscape for Mime’s hearth, which served well, while the sets of Acts 2 and 3 were kept minimalistic, the almost bare stage ruled by the projections.

Overall, however, I was glad to see the the improvements made on the previous installments of the Ring, and I hope next season's Götterdämmerung will see even more focused direction to match the quality of the musicianship the HSO's Ring has showcased thus far.