Wagner: Siegfried / St. Clair, Staatskapelle Weimar (St. Clair Ring Cycle Part 3)
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autobiography as much as the political turmoil of his times. As
work progressed, another figure grew to be as important as the hero
Siegfried, the god Wotan, the mouthpiece for Wagner s ideas. 'He's
exactly like us: he is the sum of today's intellectual consciousness,
whereas Siegfried is what we hope the human being of the future will be, but who cannot be fashioned by us, and who
must make himself by means of our destruction!' Our own doom as the basis of a happier future?
Second 'day' and third part of Richard Wagner s 'Ring', the musical saga that its author spent more than a quarter of
a century composing. It follows the rise of a young hero, Siegfried, the illegitimate son of the twins whose story we were told
in Die Walküre. On the one hand, there is learning about life, glorying in nature and in the emotions, as opposed to those of
calculation and greed on the other. This episode shows how Wagner was intent on changing society, on showing that a different
kind of man can exist, that the mercenary petit bourgeois world can be replaced by greater humanity and freedom.
Mr Moses was pretty much in agreement on the essentials of Die Walküre. Unless I've misunderstood him, we saw the basic aspects of singing, staging, and production in about the same way.
Weimar's Staatstheater is a smallish house, and its stage lacks the space and equipment found in New York, London, Vienna, or Dresden. Presenting a Ring cycle there is a challenge. The orchestra is faced with a longer and more difficult score in Siegfried than Rheingold. In the earlier work, one was not even able to observe the orchestra very clearly. But here it is often seen as a whole, and its individual players are easy to observe at work. The orchestra employs around 85 players, and they are really very good. Their conductor, Mr. St. Clair, an American, is a little slim fellow barely five feet tall if his appearance in the final curtain calls is to be believed. But his orchestral control, his shaping of climaxes and his talents as accompanist is on a much grander scale--not merely acceptable but impressive in comparison with much better known musicians who have led this work on records. He fashions a splendid account of the stormy Prelude to Act II as well as the following Wotan- Erda dialog. Frankly, I'd rather have him at the helm than Solti, and he need not fear comparison with most others. Karajan was also, well, vertically challenged. As I recall, he wore elevator shoes to achieve an extra inch or two onstage.
The opening scene reveals Mime's house in the forest as a really tiny and insubstantial construct. The only props are a table, two chairs, and a freezer--that's right, a freezer. In the first scene, we see onstage a plump--borderline fat--young kid about 10 years old, stretched out under the table reading a book. He says not a word, but after three minutes or so gets up and vanishes backstage, whereupon Mime appears and gives the expected complaint `Zwangvolle Plage, Müh ohne Zweck'. One suspect--correctly as it happens--that the chubby little kid (who reappears occasionally later) is the boy Siegfried. Not long afterward, of course, the grown man Siegfried appears, dressed like a farm hand or truck driver, still overweight though now more than six feet tall and with hair graying around the edges. It is Johnny van Hall--as visually uncouth a Siegfried as anyone who ever appeared in the role. He displays not only a broad smile but a lusty, loud, smoothly produced tenor that could easily reach the last balcony seats. He can sing like Siegfried, but how Brünnhilde ever falls for him is a little hard to imagine. Catherine Foster as Brünnhilde not only sings clearly, on pitch, and with a modest level of vibrato, but generates formidable power. Moreover, her appearance is quite attractive in comparison with others who play the part. She might in time achieve fame and fortune.
Wotan as the Wanderer, sung reasonably well by Tomas Möwes, is accompanied much of the time by Donner and Froh from Rheingold, the ugliest and disreputable accomplices you can imagine. In Rheingold the role is taken capably by Mario Hoff, but Tomas Möwes also sings it reasonably well. Frieder Aurich as Mime gives a virtuoso performance, one of the best. I'll not describe the oddities you'll encounter in Act II, except to mention you'll meet a young boy, later to achieve fame or perhaps notoriety, named Hagen. Act III is quite strightforward, no weird surprises. Erda's role is longer and more difficult than in Rheingold, but it is played and sung even more superbly, if that is possible. Wotan by now has ditched Froh and Donner, leaving the way clear for a more conventional and well-shaped performance of the finale.
Despite the oddities in I and II, this production is way ahead of Rheingold. Indeed, it is a reasonable contender in what has now become a somewhat crowded field. I hate to admit it, but I found it, even with an odd-looking Siegfried, musically on an unexpectedly high level. Maybe it is best enjoyed as a purely audio experience, but I cannot deny its musical quality.
Finally, have you yet figured out what--or who--is in that up-to-date freezer at Mime's place? Here's a hint: Sieglinde's body could have come in handy for Mime at some future time. Just like a sperm bank! -- American Record Guide, John P. McKelvey, November 2009
Top Customer Reviews
I purchased this disc because it was inexpensive and I thought it might help change my mind...It didn't.
To me the story line is confusing and off the wall. I could not follow the vocal line as I can in most Italian and some German operas; the costumes seemed absurd, the sets the same.
04/02/15 I recently listened to a FARAO Blu Ray audio disk of Die Walkure conducted by Zubin Mehta with The Bavarian State Orchestra and I thought it was thrilling.. Some Great signing, orchestral playing and recording. See my review. I watched the above disk again and I liked it a little better, but I still suspect it is not a very good production. So one of the commentators was quite right....You can teach an old dog a few new tricks.
The video quality and sound, in the Siegfried, were both very good.I cannot give a valid opinion of the vocal and orchestral performance becaue I was unable to get past ActI and I am totally unfamiliar with the vocal aspects of the music.
As I said, the fault is probably mine, but Wagnerian opera is just not for me.....
04/09/09 I finally finished watching the whole opera. I think I got the story, but I still think the production is kind of cheesy and probably takes a lot of liberties with Wagner's original intent. I would like to see a good traditional performance. But there is no doubt of the power and beauty of much of the writing. The finale, Brunhillde's Awakening, has some thrilling singing and orchestral sections.. I am going to invest in a good, traditional Blu Ray Ring; I think I can be converted.
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