Wagner - Siegfried / West, Gasteen, Göhring, Schöne, Waag, Jun, Herrera, Zagrosek, Stuttgart Opera
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No production of the Ring can conclusively answer all the questions thrown up by this theatrical cosmos. The puzzles, anomalies and contradictions will never be completely resolved or even reconciled. But Jossi Wielers direction, in sets by Anna Viebrock, exercises an unprecedented power of suggestion to draw from Siegfried the glummest of all comedies, making laughter die in the throat, and presenting only one negative figure: the Wanderer, Wotan. Here, the god is a schizoid: the CEO of Walhall Inc. who has lost his power base. He should have retired long ago, but he still flaunts himself, an elegant old rocker in jeans, leather jacket and shades: impotent, but still enjoying sadistic little games, like the quiz in which Mimes head is the prize.
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Top Customer Reviews
On the music end, Siegfried (though I felt I could actually smell him through the TV) was a superb singer and actor. He stayed in his role throughout Act III, and his voice remained strong. Though if I were Brunnhilde waking up after 18 years, after seeing him, I would head for the nearest exit. Lisa Gasteen as Brunnhilde had a surprisingly glorious voice, the best I've heard since Nilsson, though in her first 10 minutes she tended to go flat on her upper notes, but improved as she warmed up. I'm looking forward to seeing her career as Brunnhilde flourish. It's been a long time since we had that kind of quality. Wotan was fabulous in the first act, but seemed to fatigue and become overwhelmed by the orchestra by the third act. Mime and Alberich were both good, and Fafner had a great voice. The orchestra was superb as well and, musically I felt it was equal to any production I have heard.
So, all that's left is the interpretation. I guess you either bite the bullet and enjoy it or get disgusted and assume Wagner would have rolled over in his grave. Actually, I think Wagner would have loved it for its sheer boldness and creativity. Some parts of the production I felt were amateurish, such as having Alberich chain-smoking for a good five minutes until Wotan showed up. I wanted to grab the cigarettes and stomp on them myself. And I could have lived without Mime's masturbation scene. Unfortunately, the music took second place to the shocking performance on stage, and that was a shame. The act with Erda was a bit disappointing, partly because Wotan was struggling. The most fun was Brunnhilde's awakening, flopping her rather large self all over an equally large Siegfried. Also, having her put on makeup and brush her teeth was a touch of sheer genius.
To sum it up, I really enjoyed the novelty and the quality of the singing. The production moved along very quickly and the time flew by. Some parts were silly, but most of it they pulled off rather well. I just ordered myself a copy from Amazon.
Special kudos must go to Gohrig (Mime) who probably holds the world record for "Longest Masterbation Scene in Front of a Live Opera Audience", and Waag (Alberich)who probably had to smoke cigarettes onstage longer than any other opera singer (if I'm wrong about either, I'm not sure I want to know).
I will say that even if Wagner were alive today, I somehow doubt he'd approve of this "jeans and t-shirt" concept of his opera. I mean, sneakers, baseball caps, and plus-sized lingerie might be a bit too flippant for this kind of stage work. And poor Jon Fredric West, whose body-type obviously wasn't taken into consideration when his costume was designed, ends up looking like he has ketchup all over his shirt instead of blood, as if he had just devoured several Big Macs at McDonalds. If the world were ideal, he would look as gorgeous and heroic as his voice.
Heinz Göhrig is Mime and he's dressed rather like Mr. Rogers. In a, huge, filthy apartment (with a forge and billows by the stove?) we find him peelin' `taters. The anvil strikes are here produced by Mime banging his peeler against the metal pot. It's actually a bit of fun and one of the few gimmicks that works here. Unfotunately, after his interview with The Wanderer and having the bejesus scared out of him, he shoves his hand down his pants and masturbates. Really. I guess the guy gets off on fear.
I've never thought of Jon Frederic West as obese, but here he looks like Bruce Vilanch got up as the late Edith Massey (for those unfamiliar with either reference, trust me, it's about as gruesome as one can imagine). West, in "normal" costumes looks like a beefy, possibly overfed tenor and not a particularly good actor. Here, his ample carcass is stuffed into ill fitting jeans with a filthy grimy tee-shirt bearing his name SIEG FRIED (haven't figured out the blank space). His hair is a filthy mop of long blonde locks that appears never to have been washed. With his short stature and wide, ungainly girth, one would assume that his mobility would be severely unlimited. Oh, were that only the case. Instead, the portly West jumps and hurtles and races about the stage with a face exhibiting the complete range of human emotions from A to B. Or maybe A and a half. It's a "Johnny One Note" interpretation that grows wearisome and really is difficult to watch. Fortunately (or unfortunately) he offers the best singing I've ever heard from him - I'd go so far as to say, no one today can touch him in the role. I say unfortunately, because if he sang as bad as he looked, one could simply turn the damned thing off.
This is the principal problem with this set. It IS, for the most part, wonderfully sung. It's just so ghastly to watch.
The most attractive singer (by far) is Björn Waag as (can you believe this!) Alberich! Alberich is actually downright sexy, decked out in a dark suit, chainsmoking and stomping out (literally) dozens of cigarettes with his bare feet as he paces before the Cyclone fence that "hides" Fafner with a sign warning "Lebensgefahr'" He sings well too.
Fafner is Attila the Hun, er, Attila Jun, a Korean basso, who is robbed of the benefit of a dragon costume and forced to wear a tee shirt imprinted "DEIRF GEIS" (which is, of course, Siegfried as if seen in a mirror . . . brilliant and fraught with meaning, yes?). After the Dragon's murder Siegfried is stained/splattered repulsively with blood for the balance of the evening, West looking worse by the second.
The forest bird is a blind, blonde boy got up a la Eminem. Huh, you ask? Me too. He wanders about with one arm extended before him, grimly, like the Ghost of Christmas Future. When he wanders into Erda's filthy apartment (you heard me) he hides in a closet as The Wanderer enters. He enters looking like Wolfgang Schöne forced to wear 1950's hoodlum gear; creased blue jeans, a leather jacket, sunglasses and a baseball cap. Brilliant! The Wanderer urges Erda to rise from her sleep, but she's not sleeping, she's sitting on a 1950's doctor's stool before a mindbogglingly filthy sink, scribbling frantically away in her diary. She wears a dirty pink nightgown. She looks old. She sounds old. The bit gets real old. At the climax of her scene, she lays down in an equally filthy shower stall, curls up and goes to sleep. Unfortunately, Schöne's voice sometimes doesn't sound right for or up to the role, but he's an impressive actor (as much as one can tell) and every word is sung, if not always beautifully, then passionately and his text comes across with a nonetheless impressive authority. (The missing "eye" business usually covered up by a patch in most productions here, is fairly repulsive and fake looking.) As earlier stated, West's Johnny One Note performance of Siegfried remains so, and instead of registering something like proud surprise when Nothung busts The Wanderer's Spear (here, just a pipe he happens to find leaning against a wall in Erda's apartment literally a millisecond before he utters "My Spear"). The blind Eminem boy comes back out and leads Siegfried to Brunhilde's boudoir.
Brunhilde's Boudoir has a gigantic bed covered in ghastly green with a matching velvet headboard attached to the wall, and a matching bench at the foot. She is not in bed, but rather seated, slumped, at her make-up counter of stage wide vanity. She is in a sickly green nightgown, with a jockey's helmet on her head. Brilliant! When Siegfried rouses her, she falls on him, and, still asleep, starts writhing all over his body. He hides in the closet (Hmmmm?) as she sings 'Heil dir, Sonne." It's Lisa Gasteen, and she sings it wondrously, but looks . . . mmmmmm... terrible. She's forced to play Brunhilde as a tart. During the ensuing duet, she puts on her make-up, brushes her hair, jumps on the bed, patting the space beside her to a Siegfried who looks frightened (sort of). They strip the bed, he jumps up and down on it throwing pillows at her across the room while she brushes her teeth. To quote Anna Russell "I'm not making this up, you know!" They spend the duet's final minutes trying to make the bed but can't get the fitted sheet on, each pulling too much in their own direction, before, at the climax, Siegfried pulls the entire thing off, runs across the room, and then jumps into the bed where the two pasty rolly pollies writhe about, laughing in ecstasy. I almost hurled. Poor Gasteen is an attractive large woman who here is unflatteringly costumed and directed to be a bit whorish - not an association I think is genuinely representative of Brunhilde.
It all looks as if "Gotterdammerung" had already taken place and they're just reenacting the whole damned thing!
The ensuing ovation lasts 9 minutes, but when the directorial team comes out for a curtain call, there some vociferous booing occurs. They don't stay out there long and don't return with the cast for repeated bows.
Some of the ideas were indeed interesting, but I can't help but feel the unrelieved and overall ugliness to be done solely for "shock" purposes. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's how I felt. I wouldn't have minded the same structural production so long as the singers weren't made to look like grotesques. I have never needed literal-minded productions, and enjoy "out there" but the directorial silliness here didn't, for me, well serve the tale being told.
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