What: Wagner’s Siegfried, Live HD Simulcast When: November 5, 2011 Who: Metropolitan Opera Running time: 5 ½ hrs, including two intermissions Where: Metropolitan Opera House, New York Where she saw it: Carousel Center Mall Encore performance: Not yet determined
Having an epic plot wasn’t epic enough for the Ring Cycle. Feeling that no existing opera house would do for his obscenely huge productions, Wagner built Bayreuth. Perhaps Robert Lepage’s set of angled, computerized panels at the Metropolitan Opera was meant as homage to the great composer, but sadly, the set is a flop.
The multi-million dollar panels are not without their charms (thank goodness for small favors). Several times, we see the forest floor crawling with knarly roots, bugs, and snakes—scenes reminiscent of a Dürer print or a Grimm fairytale. When pre-adolescent Siegfried plays in the forest with Mime in tow, the forest is exposed on panels as they rotate up, giving the impression of zooming in from the sky—quite cinematic. And the reflecting pool in Act I is a fantastic trick.
But overall, the panels constrict the stage space, groan over the orchestra, and provide an obstacle course for the singers. As Siegfried—sung by Jay Hunter Morris—struggles over crisscrossed panels to Brunnhilde, we see that Morris’s journey is realistically difficult. He looked like he was climbing a treacherous water tower. Without the ladder.
It’s a pity that the awkward set pushes mention of Morris to the third paragraph. He was marvelous! His bright voice exceptionally portrayed a confident 17-year old with the brutish strength of a heldentenor. As he titillated listeners while he forged his sword, close-ups showed no trace of sweat (though they revealed light blue eyes, high cheek bones, pink lips, and a petite nose that would have pleased Wagner, no doubt).
Mime, played by Gerhard Siegal, was equally impressive, portraying the twitchy guardian with scraggly hair (if only Danny DeVito could sing…). Both Siegal and Morris are fantastic actors, selling the epic to all who will listen. I was sad to see Mime go in Act II.
Fafner’s slaying was perhaps the set’s biggest failure. The dragon’s lair is seen from the outside, and we understand him to live behind a cascading waterfall that resembles the rainbow-enhanced screens in Chinese restaurants. When it’s time for Fafner to show himself, the panels shift upward, revealing what appears to be a papier-mache head wiggling about with glowing yellow eyes. The mismatched computerized forest and dangling dragon were baffling. Not to mention, the moment of Siegfried’s triumph was in the shadow of the raised panels, completely deflating the climax.
Bryn Terfel’s portrayal of the Wanderer was strong, even if he seems to have fewer colors on his palette than one would hope. He was convincingly both majestic and troubled, a treat to listen to.
Eric Owens played Mime’s brother, Alberich, and a richer, deeper voice would be hard to find. His sonorous booms sent chills. Mojca Erdmann occupied the opposite end of the spectrum with a wise and beautiful wood bird, sung from offstage. Her chirping was every bit as enjoyable as it was in Don Giovanni.
Of course, it's not over 'til the fat lady sings, and she did so beautifully. Deborah Voigt’s strong voice awakens you after 4+ hours of opera, and her chemistry with Morris is delightful and touching. The scene becomes tiresome, though the fault lies more with Wagner and Lepage. Voigt’s last note was a bit shorter than I would have liked, but no harm done.
As with Don Giovanni, Fabio Luisi took fluid tempos, bringing the 6-hour opera home with half an hour to spare. I can’t imagine anyone minded. The orchestra was divine, as always.
Morris’s Siegfried grew over the 3 Acts, subtly discarding youthful pomp for manly authority as he discovered woman. This depth of character was the icing on the cake, propelling him to a truly remarkable status.