“Siegfried”, the Seattle Opera’s third installment of its extraordinary production of Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen”, proved to be a resounding success, easily absorbing a substitution in the role of Bruennhilde for the under-the-weather Alwyn Mellor.
Notes on “Siegfried” – the Opera
Wagner predicted that “Siegfried” would be the “Ring” opera that would become the most popular and the most performed outside of the four opera cycle.
[Below: Siegfried (Stefan Vinke, center) is disgusted with his guardian, Mime (Dennis Petersen, left, standing in hole); resized image, based on an Elise Bakketun photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]
So far, at least in the past century and a half, the prize for popularity has gone to “Die Walkuere”. Yet, there is a dramatic cohesion to this opera that does suggest it can be presented as a stand alone opera.
Stripped of its backstories (rather fewer anyway than the other “Ring” operas), I’ve always thought of it as a day in the life of Prince Charming on his way to awaken the Sleeping Beauty.
[Below: Dennis Petersen as Mime; resized image of an Elise Bakketun photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]
You forge a magic sword, you kill a dragon and a sinister dwarf, you taste dragon’s blood and are thereby able to communicate with the forest’s bird life, you break the magic spear of an old man who blocks your way to a treacherous mountain, you climb through flames to find the sleeping beauty, you kiss her and the two of you make love.
It’s a fairy tale ending!
Of course, Siegfried, unlike Charming, is not aware that he is of royal blood, although we in the audience know his grandfather is the King of the Gods and Master of the Universe.
[Below: Greer Grimsley as the Wanderer, who is the King of the Gods and the Master of the Universe; resized image, based on an Elise Bakketun photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]
What occurs after the Fairy Tale Ending – disillusion, deception, treachery, murder, suicide, Das Ende – is the stuff of “Goetterdaemmerung”.
But this is the Wagner opera where a couple of bad guys are killed off and the good people end up alive, in love, and optimistic about their futures.
Notes on the Production
I reviewed this production when it was last mounted four years ago [See An Imaginative “Siegfried” Continues Seattle Opera’s Spectacular Cycle – August 12, 2009]. A detailed description of Director Stephen Wadsworth’s approach to the opera is outlined there.
It is difficult, even in the much longer reviews that this website affords in comparison to, say, newspaper accounts of performances, to record every remarkable concept in Wadsworth’s productions.
Some of the more vivid Wadsworthisms include raising the curtain for the audience to observe (and listen to) Mime scraping a sword blade with a file, and then in the next act having Siegfried tenderly caress the body of Mime, whom he has just killed, closing his eyes and finally showing him the respect that Mime always desired from him.
I also note another of Wadsworth’s innovations. First, young Siegfried storms out after an argument with Mime (the battles between any teenager and an “uncool” parent an obvious inspiration).
[Below: Stefan Vinke as Siegfried; resized image, based on an Elise Bakketun phtograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]
Then Wotan the Wanderer appears and, for a moment, tries to chase after the Siegfried. The Wanderer is unsuccessful in overtaking the hero who might be the savior of the gods.
The Wanderer then begins to take notice of Mime’s musings about his inability to figure how to forge the sword that Siegfried would need to slay the dragon for him.
He eavesdrops from the roof above Mime’s head. As Wadsworth tells the story, the subsequent battle of wits between the Wanderer and the Nibelung (with their respective heads as the winner’s prize) seems to be more a spur of the moment idea on the Wanderer’s part, than some stratagem that was part of Wotan’s intricately planned schemes.
Notes on the Performance
In my 2009 review, I had praised Dennis Petersen as Mime (the second longest role in the opera, by the way). If anything, his robust tenor voice seems even larger and sweeter (yes, a melliflous Mime!) than ever before.
Petersen creates a sharp characterization of a sniveling, sinister force of evil. Yet the inherent humor that we expect from any great Mime is present as well.
Greer Grimsley and Richard Paul Fink own their respective roles of Wotan, the Wanderer and Alberich. These are master-class portrayals.
[Below: the two old adversaries, Wotan (Greer Grimsley, left) and Alberich (Richard Paul Fink, right) sort out their current strategies for regaining control of the Nibelung Ring; resized image, based on an Elise Bakketun photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]
The artists scheduled to appear in the Seattle Ring “Siegfried” for the first time were the Siegfried and the Erda. Of course (as a result of the circumstances mentioned above), the Bruennhilde was also a “Siegfried” debut.
Stefan Vinke’s Siegfried
Where illness had plagued his 2009 predecessor as Siegfried, German tenor Stefan Vinke proved an ardent, healthy, physically appealing hero, with the large, ringing heldentenor that this role requires.
In addition to sheer power, the role also has long passages of lyrical beauty, including the intensely, melodic love music that was introduced by the character Loge in “Rheingold” and continued through the love music for Siegfried’s parents, Siegmund and Sieglinde, in “Die Walkuere”.
Vinke is a fine actor who uses the abundant opportunities for humor in the role to bind with his audience. Siegfrieds always expect laughs when he creates a reed-flute to communicate with the forest-bird. Vinke’s antics were hilarious.
The audience reaction to Vinke’s domination of the stage for the entire evening was thunderous.
[Below: Siegfried (Stefan Vinke, center left) takes on the dragon Fafner (center right, the dragon’s voice that of Daniel Sumegi; resized image of an Elise Bakketun photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]
Lucille Beer’s Erda
The character of Erda, summoned by the Wanderer Wotan from her mystic sleep, was wonderfully performed by Lucille Beer, who showed a true contralto range.
Erda emerges from a sheer vertical rock face – one of the striking images of the production realized in Thomas Lynch’s always imposing set designs.
[Below: Erda (Lucille Beer, below left) has been awakened by Wotan, the Wanderer (Greer Grimsley, below center); resized image, based on an Elise Bakketun photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]
Lori Phillips’ Bruennhilde
The big story of the night, of course, was Stefan Vinke’s debut as Siegfried, but, coincident with his debut, was the unexpected appearance as the “Siegfried” Bruennhilde of dramatic soprano Lori Phillips, who is covering every one of the scheduled Bruennhildes of British soprano Alwyn Mellor.
An important international artist in her own right (and, as the designated cover, intimately familiar with Wadsworth’s staging), she created a strong impression. (She is scheduled to sing Senta with the Arizona Opera in November, 2013.)
[Below: Dramatic Soprano Lori Phillips was Bruennhilde, here as Senta in Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman”; resized image of a production photograph.]
Wagner’s music in “Siegfried’s” third act, the only act in this opera in which Bruennhilde appears, was composed years later than the first two acts.
Phillips’ and Vinke’s performances of Wagner’s luxuriously scored love scene excelled the high achievements of the 2009 “Siegfried” third act.
The person responsible for producing the “sound” of the mature Wagner was the conductor, Asher Fisch. The third act provides an opportunity for a conductor and orchestra to up their game from even an exemplary presentation of the Ring’s first six “acts”. As one would predict, this they did.
I recommend this production of “Siegfried” without any reservations.
The production of this opera and that of the “Ring” of which it is part is a world treasure.
Although no annnouncment has yet been made of future “Ring cycles” in Seattle, all efforts to secure the future of this production and sets, whether in Seattle (where its primeval “green” appearance has an environmental resonance) or elsewhere, should be applauded.
For my review of the other performances of the Seattle Opera “Ring of the Nibelungs”, see: A Richly Rewarding, Re-imagined “Rheingold” – Seattle Opera, August 4, 2013, and also,