This is the third leg in EuroArts' ongoing cycle of Wagner's Ring operas. The productions will be, to say the least, controversial for many listeners. If I may beg the reader's indulgence, I would like to quote myself from a recent review of Das Rheingold: "If you play this DVD on your system but don't watch it, you'll find the performances and sound qualities quite excellent. But, of course, who won't be watching? Eyes, not just ears, will be wide open for any DVD, and they may open wider once the performance of this opera starts." That pretty much sums up this production too, an updated take on Siegfried, what I termed, in Rheingold, "an almost Theater-of-the-Absurd" approach to the opera. The sets and atmosphere are dingy, with performers dressed in jeans and sneakers and leather jackets, and conveying a sassy, modern manner in their characters' persona. I can say that most tradition-minded Wagnerians probably wouldn't like this production, but with eyes shut they would find the performances quite compelling.
Having written all this, though, I must lay my cards on the table now and confess that I sat riveted through scene after scene, finding Zagrosek, his orchestra and the singers utterly convincing within the weird scenic world provided by producer Dieter Schickling and his retinue of co-producers and technicians. I recently read a review of this opera by another critic who found the production distasteful, but the performances – the non-visual half – quite compelling. I can only report then, that if you can open your mind and allow a different approach to Wagner; you may very well find this inventive, if aggressively modern production, quite worthwhile.
West makes a fine Siegfried and Göhrig a splendid Mime. Atilla Jun's Fafner is imposing, but I'm not sure the amplification of his voice, grim and otherworldly though it is, isn't a tad or so over the top. Still, it's atmospheric and spooky and in a way fits this modernistic staging. Wolfgang Schöne is also quite excellent as the Wanderer and Björn Waag is convincing as Alberich. As for the women in this opera, who are, of course, relegated to rather minor roles, Lisa Gasteen is an effective Brünnhilde and Helene Ranada a good Erda. Gabriela Herrera, really not a woman in the opera but one in real life, makes a splendid Woodbird.
Lothar Zagrosek may be the star of this and the other three Ring opera productions from this Stuttgart Opera series. He is always incisive and insightful, and understands Wagner's epic character almost as well as anyone. He manages to get fine playing here from the Stuttgart State Orchestra, too. Again, if you can take this kind of production, you'll find it quite good, maybe even excellent. Certainly the camera work and stage direction are never wanting and the sound reproduction is vivid. The booklet notes are informative too.
A word about Wagner: I often wonder why this great composer didn't devote at least some of his energies to the symphony or concerto. Oh yes, he wrote a symphony early in his career, but he ceded that realm, for some strange reason, to Beethoven, and decided to focus his energies on opera. His music is masterful and, I strongly suspect, would have been compelling in a variety of genres. Why didn't he know this? It may have been his sizable ego that got in his way, the fear he might fail or come in second to Beethoven or Mozart in some, to him, more adventurous or alien realm. In any event, he wrote what he wrote. We have his operas and little else of consequence. Wagner's operas are great works that have influenced countless composers from succeeding generations. Listen to Shostakovich's Symphony #13, the fourth movement, subtitled Fears, and you'll hear tuba writing strongly influenced by that from the Prelude to Act II of Siegried. And one could go on citing example after example of Wagner's powerful sway over composers who followed him. I only wish that he would have directed his talent in other areas. I guess you can say that I have other wishes as well – that Mozart and Schubert would have lived longer, that Beethoven hadn't gone deaf, that… Well, let me end this rant by saying that I strongly recommend this Siegfried to those listeners (and viewers) willing to take on a modernistic production.
Copyright © 2004, Robert Cummings