Review of “Siegfried” at Liceu, March 11, 2015
It was a long night. The same five hours as usual, but the drama failed to grip me as I hoped and expected. If there is a performance of The Ring that I can reach, I am there. Last night’s, while by no means bad, was not one of my favourites.
I had been looking forward to hearing Lance Ryan as the eponymous Siegfried, in this, the third segment of The Ring. Certainly the Liceu had a previous exciting performance to live up to, when John Treleaven sang the role in 2004. Stefan Vinke (who is scheduled to sing the secondary performances this year) gamely stepped in. He did a great job of acting a complex part (do we like, hate, despise or pity Siegfried, who, in modern day England would have garnered an ASBO court order for antisocial behavior all round). His singing was workmanlike but did not excite me, although, judging by the volume of the bravos during the curtain call, a large portion of the audience did not agree.
Part of the reason that the performance dragged was Josep Pons’ orchestral direction. The music plodded. At the end of the first intermission there was a very audible expression of negative opinion when he returned to the podium.
Robert Carsen’s staging of this Ring entered the third phase of ugliness. Yes, I know this is the end of the world as they knew it, but, in the Liceu’s 2004 production, the simple withering of the iconic ash tree from which Wotan’s staff was carved, was effective without being intrusive and a distortion. Mr. Carsen’s trash-strewn, illogical representation has, from the start, been a distraction. And in Siegfried, he has, for the second time placed the drama of the all-important sword 'Nothung' in a world of bombs, rifles and motorised vehicles. I find it insulting to the logic of the audience.
In any performance of Siegfried, the wait for the jewel of the piece is long. The first act, when, as in this case, Mime is performed well and wittily by Peter Bronder, goes by relatively fast. But thereafter, it is not the easiest segment of the Ring to sit through (and Siegfried is really SO dumb). But there is no slipping away because Wagner has us strapped to our seats waiting for the glorious final scene when this dumb young man ploughs through fire to awaken the sleeping Brunhilde. Great love ensues, although she is his aunt, and 30 years older than him. But who’s counting? And what’s a little incest among the Gods? We have already been taught to accept these social abnormalities in the second segment, 'Die Walküre', when we are confronted by the passionate love affair between Wotan’s twins, Siegmund and Sieglinde, the parents of the dumb Siegfried. Come to think of it, isn’t that one of the reasons incest is frowned upon?
Anyway, joking apart, the final scene is worth four and a half hours of waiting time. Irene Theorin sang an exquisite Brunhilde, who, woken up from a long sleep, can’t quite grasp the idea that she is now human and exposed to passionate love. Siegfried is nothing if not persistent, however, and, at least at the end of the third segment, we are left with a happy ending. Don’t count on it lasting!
Cast number one, with or without Lance Ryan and with Irene Theorin, the superb Albert Dohnen as Wotan (the Wanderer), Peter Bronder as Mime and the glorious, sonorous Ewa Podles as Erda, will sing on the 15th, 19th and 23rd March. Cast number two, with Stefan Vinke and Catherine Foster, Greer Gimsley as Wotan, Gerhard Siegel as Mime and Maria Radner as Erda, will take the stage on the 13th, 17th and 21st March.
In between, on March 18, there is the exciting prospect of a concert performance of Tristan and Isolde, with the Marinsky Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev. Given the modern approach to staging, I am getting to like concert performances more and more, especially because the singers often find it hard not to inject some subtle acting into the presentation.
Further ahead, but an attractive prospect is the reintroduction of Calixto Bieito’s staging of Bizet’s Carmen—one of his more controlled efforts. Beatrice Uria-Monzon is Carmen, Nikolai Schukoff, Don José and Massimo Cavalletti, Escamillo. The smaller, but lovely role of Micaëla, will be played by Evelin Novak. Performances run from April 17th to May 2nd.