Bayerische Staatsoper/Nagano: Siegfried

Date: July 10 – 15, 2012 (second of two Cycles)
Conductor: Kent Nagano
Production: Andreas Kriegenburg
Location: Bavarian State Opera, Munich.

If Das Rheingold and Die Walküre presented two competing visions of theatrical uses of human bodies in an opera setting, Siegfried presented something somewhat in between. To represent Fafner’s dragon, about two dozen scantily clad actors were shackled onto a dragon-shaped scaffolding and illuminated by burning-orange floodlights. As the dragon moved and roared, the actors moved in seemingly meaningless gyration. The resultant effect gave alternately a sensation of pain and voyeuristic ecstasy, much like how the actors’ abundance of energy in Rheingold was analogous to the breaking waves of the Rhine.

Act 1 revealed something of an entirely different order: dozens of actors moved about on stage, often acting out what was sung in the libretto, including a comical reenactment of Siegfried’s birth just as Mime retold the story of the Wälsung twins. Half a dozen actors worked an oversized pump to inject air into Mime’s oven, just as Siegfried started to weld his sword. An actor would dump metallic confetti into an air outlet controlled by the manual actuation of pumps in synchronization with Siegfried’s anvil percussion. The cartoonish depiction, including the actor’s refilling of metallic confetti, spurred a few snickers from the audience. A few other actors rolled on stage a gigantic water barrel, in which Siegfried would dump Nothung to cool it down. It wasn’t entirely clear if these actors really inhabited the same dimension as Siegfried and Mime, or if they were merely transparent, faceless effectors of stage movements. On the surface, their abundance seemed to violate one common interpretation that Act 1 was meant to be an introverted look at the relationship between Siegfried and Mime. Yet Kriegenburg brought up an interesting point: if the relationship between Siegfried and Mime has always meant, even by Wagner, to be farcical, the presence of these comical effectors only served to accentuate that point.

Lance Ryan, as Siegfried, sang with gusto, though he seemed ready to reserve his firepower in Act 1. In Act 3, as his voice blossomed with power and energy, he vindicated his earlier pacing strategy. Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, as Mime, did not impress with enough menace, though as a singer, he excelled with a golden top. Thomas J. Mayer was adequate but not special as Wotan, while Catherine Naglestad, as Brünnhilde, was properly lyrical and abundantly sonorous. The porcelain-faced Elena Tsallagova proved most unexpectedly outstanding as the forest bird. Her trills were controlled and delightful, and she did not forcibly exaggerate her presence any more than the dramaturgy required her to. Her vocal phrasings arched beautifully over the orchestral music, not merely adorning but caressing it. Her agile and playful movements on stage proved that she was either an accomplished dancer or an exceptionally gifted stage actress, or both.