Authority and Charisma
reviewed by MARIA NOCKIN
Siegfried is the third opera in Richard Wagner's epic Ring Cycle. Its four operas are based on material from: the Poetic Edda, the Prose Edda, the Völsunga Saga, Thidreks Saga and the Nibelungenlied. The Eddas are the most important source of Norse mythology and Germanic hero legends. The Poetic Edda, found in the medieval Icelandic Codex Regius, is the older of the two and contains pre-Christian pagan poems. The Prose Edda was written in the thirteenth century by Icelandic poet, historian and politician, Snorri Sturluson. Both are written in an ancient style which features internal alliteration, a device also used by the composer.
Oleg Bryjak as Alberich and Graham Clark as Mime, with, at the rear, John Treleaven in the title role of Wagner's 'Siegfried' at Los Angeles Opera. Photo © 2009 Monika Rittershaus
The thirteenth century Icelandic prose Völsunga Saga tells of the origin and decline of the Völsung clan, while Thidreks Saga relates additional stories about Siegfried. Das Rheingold uses mainly material from the Eddas, but Die Walküre is based on the Völsunga Saga. The background for Siegfried was taken from both the Eddas and the Sagas, while the last opera in the cycle, Götterdämerung, comes largely from the twelfth century high German Nibelungenlied. Wagner, however, had many ideas of his own and they are also part of the Ring.
John Treleaven as Siegfried and Graham Clark as Mime with, at the rear, Eric Halfvarson as Fafner. Photo © 2009 Monika Rittershaus
Composer and librettist Wagner wrote the poems for all four operas in the late 1840s and the early 1850s. In 1853 and 1854 he worked on the music for Das Rheingold. That opera, alone, had a première in Munich in 1869. From 1854 to 1856 he composed Die Walküre, and in 1856 and 1857 he wrote much of the first two acts of Siegfried. Then he stopped. He composed Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg before returning to work on the Ring in 1869. It was not until 1874 that he finished the entire project. The cycle, as a whole, had its world première at Bayeuth in August of 1876.
John Treleaven as Siegfried. Photo © 2009 Monika Rittershaus
On 26 September 2009, Los Angeles Opera presented the third Ring opera, Siegfried, in a production by Achim Freyer. The German director not only furnished the stage direction but also designed the scenery, the lighting and some of the costuming. The rest of the most inventive costumes were the work of Freyer's daughter, Amanda. Of all Ring operas, Siegfried has the most lyrical score. For this reason, the heavy orchestral cover, which had been in place for Das Rheingold and Die Walküre last season, was replaced by one of a much lighter, thinner design that allowed more of the instrumental sound to be heard. Thus, the lovely forest sounds were most evident. They contrasted impressively with the stronger tones of the well-projected Forging Song: 'Nothung! Nothung! neidliches Schwert' sung by John Treleaven as Siegfried. Clad in bearskin trousers and a spandex muscle-enhancing shirt that turned red when he first saw Brünnhilde, Treleaven sang with grace and immense vocal strength for the first two acts, but seemed somewhat tired by the third, which only proved his humanity.
Vitalij Kowaljow as The Wanderer and John Treleaven in the title role of Wagner's 'Siegfried' at Los Angeles Opera. Photo © 2009 Monika Rittershaus
As The Wanderer, Vitalij Kowaljow projected powerful dark tones that underscored his authority and charisma. It was also helpful to see more of his face in this guise. Graham Clark was a whining but amusing Mime with a full-blooded, incisive sound. As the cunning Alberich, Oleg Bryjac projected malevolence as he prowled across the stage and sang with laudable clarity.
Vitalij Kowaljow as The Wanderer and Jill Grove as Erda in Wagner's 'Siegfried' at Los Angeles Opera. Photo © 2009 Monika Rittershaus
Jill Grove never fails to turn in a fine performance, and this afternoon was no exception. Her vocalism had great beauty and power as she energized Erda's text with conviction. Eric Halfvarson was a huge, deep-voiced Fafner who was much more frightening aurally than visually. As the Woodbird, Stacey Tappan offered the light-voiced relief that this opera needs by the time she appears. Her coloratura was accurate and her sound enthralling as she told the hero of the gold.
Linda Watson as Brünnhilde and John Treleaven in the title role of Wagner's 'Siegfried' at Los Angeles Opera. Photo © 2009 Monika Rittershaus
Only at the end of the last act does our hero find his sleeping Brünnhilde, Linda Watson. By then, Treleaven was beginning to have some understandable vocal difficulties, but Watson did not sound as fresh and vocally free as expected. Their duet, 'Heil dir Sonne', therefore, was a bit of a disappointment. The orchestra led by Music Director James Conlon, played with passion and incredible accuracy. Not one false note was to be heard during the first two acts and Act III had only two almost inaudible mistakes. Since taking over as music director, Conlon has brought the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra up to the level of the best opera orchestras of the world. At the end of this performance, the singers and conductor were tumultuously applauded, just as they have been at the other Ring opera premières in Los Angeles.
John Treleaven as 'Siegfried'. Photo © 2009 Monika Rittershaus
Copyright © 4 October 2009