Notes and Editorial Reviews
Director Pierre Audi’s Ring cycle, conducted by Hartmut Haenchen at the Het Muziektheater in Amsterdam, continues with an outstanding Siegfried. After Rheingold and Walküre, we’re getting used to seeing the orchestra, which is even more prominently displayed here. As act III begins, Haenchen is standing at stage level to lead the turbulent music that precedes the Wanderer’s arrival, magnificently played by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. (Listen for the wind machine, apparently authorized by Wagner.) The RPO, by the way, is the third ensemble to be employed for these 1999 performances: the Residentie Orchestra did the honors for Das Rheingold and the Netherlands Philharmonic was the band for Die Walküre.
Siegfried succeeds thanks to superior production values, the orchestral contribution, and some very strong vocal performances. In this last regard, Graham Clark’s Mime is no surprise. Clark has portrayed the scheming dwarf so many times in so many Rings, but always seems to relish the role. Here, a rodent-like costume hardly inhibits his athleticism (he manages something close to a handstand in act II) and, as usual, his facial expressions alone are worth the price of admission. The fact is that Clark would be nearly as communicative without the video: listen to him explain the idea of “fear” to Siegfried in the first act.
John Bröcheler, the main attraction in this cycle’s Walküre, continues a magisterial representation of Wotan, vocally resplendent and theatrically imposing. The chemistry between Bröcheler and Clark couldn’t be better in act I. Perhaps the singer could be more mysterious and relaxed with Alberich at the outset of act II, but his last two scenes, with Erda and Siegfried, are wonderful. In particular, his exchange with Erda (powerfully sung by the bewitching Anne Gjevang) is erotically charged: we are reminded that Wotan once had a sexual relationship with this woman, and that Erda is more than just the practically inanimate oracle she often becomes. We see that Brünnhilde got some character traits from her maternal side as well as from her troubled father.
Henk Smit returns as Alberich, representing an especially bitter brand of evil. The Woodbird is sung by a boy soprano, an interesting aural effect. The creature is all over the place during much of act II. For example, when Siegfried can discern Mime’s murderous thoughts, the bird stands behind Clark and shakes her head vigorously when the dwarf offers Siegfried the poisoned drink. It’s shtick that we can really do without.
Jeannine Altmeyer, fresh from her rest on the rock, is terrific with her top notes secure and powerful. “Heil dir, Sonne! Heil dir, Licht!” is glorious. Siegfried’s last scene should be the most optimistic, “up” part of the entire Ring and it frequently doesn’t achieve that because of the demands placed on the singers—and that’s this set’s most pleasant surprise, the title role, as sung by Heinz Kruse. As most Wagnerians would agree, there’s been a worldwide Siegfried shortage for some time, which makes for real problems given the continuing—perhaps increasing—enthusiasm for mounting Ring cycles. No, Kruse is no Melchior and even no Windgassen, but he does a more-than-respectable job with the comedic aspects of the role and manages well enough with the lung-busting stuff to assure the success of the opera’s last 20 minutes. He has clearly paced himself, and doesn’t have to do it all on his own; fabulous orchestral support, a strong Brünnhilde, and Audi’s staging put his vocalism in the best possible light.
This Siegfried is a pleasure to watch. The lighting, designed by Wolfgang Göbbel, is effective, particularly in act II with its deep greens, reds, and blues. The fight with Fafner is exciting: the dragon is at first represented by two large glowing eyes, then massive splinters of the stage rise up amidst a great deal of smoke and fire as the battle is joined. At the end, Fafner, in his Rheingold giant form, staggers out of his cave to sing his last words and expire. Occasionally, film clips are projected in the theater—Wotan’s eye, birds flying—definitely in line with the Gesamptkunstwerk concept.
As with Die Walküre, there’s an extra feature that holds an interview with composer Peter-Jan Wagemans and musical observations from the piano with Stefan Mickisch. This one is 40 minutes long, twice the length of the feature for Walküre. Among other topics, Wagemans offers some thoughts on the connection between political events in the late 1840s and Wagner’s conception of a “hero.” Some of Mickisch’s points will seem pretty rudimentary, as most listeners probably don’t need to be told that the tritone omnipresent at the beginning of act II makes the music sound threatening. As with the two previous dramas, there are subtitles in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, and Japanese. As is typically the case, the PCM stereo version characterizes voices more fully, though the 5.1 DTS surround option does have a pleasing spaciousness.
-- Andrew Quint, FANFARE
Running Time: 273 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Dutch
Works on This Recording
Siegfried by Richard Wagner
Heinz Kruse (Tenor),
Henk Smit (Bass),
John Bröcheler (Baritone),
Jeanine Altmeyer (Soprano),
Graham Clark (Tenor)
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1871; Germany
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