Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Wagner - Siegfried

Richard Wagner - Siegfried

Teatro alla Scala, Milan - 2012

Daniel Barenboim, Guy Cassiers, Lance Ryan, Peter Bronder, Terje Stensvold, Johannes Martin Kränzle, Alexander Tsymbalyuk, Anna Larsson, Nina Stemme, Rinnat Moriah

Arthaus Musik - Blu-ray

Siegfried, the Second Day opera in La Scala's new Ring Cycle doesn't reveal any new angle on what has come before or expand on any identifiable concept, but even with variations in casting it remains consistent in look and feel and has the appropriate sense of the epic scale that is required for this part of Wagner's masterwork. It benefits however from another robust performance from the orchestra under the direction of Daniel Barenboim, from some good singing performances and even one or two exceptional ones. When it comes to a work as challenging as Siegfried, you can't really ask for much more than that.

What is important about the work itself is the consolidation of the mythology outlined in Das Rheingold and Die Walküre and the musical language of those works coalescing into the heroic qualities of the character of Siegfried himself. The earlier parts of the production achieved this as well as can be expected, both in terms of the stage production and the musical direction. Equal attention was given to the darker nature of the events unwittingly set into motion by the greed and ambition of both Wotan and Alberich, as well as to the more noble and heroic sentiments of the Wälsung offspring and Brünnhilde. This was particularly evident in how Barenboim's dynamic direction of Die Walküre spanned the epic proportions of the story with a premonitory eye on what lies ahead.

The challenge of Siegfried is that the same dynamic needs to be contained solely within one single character and, almost impossibly, taken to an heroic new level. There aren't too many singers capable of fulfilling those demands across the intense four hours of the opera, and Lance Ryan isn't perfect, but he at least remains undaunted by the challenge and comes through the experience here relatively well. That doesn't mean that there are not challenges elsewhere or that the other roles are any less important to the work and to the Ring as a whole, and fortunately those are very well supported in the Scala's production, most notably in the vital casting of Nina Stemme, who reprises her Brünnhilde here towards a powerful conclusion.

Guy Cassiers' direction and stage design is however is also a crucial supporting element that brings a sense of wholeness and consistency to this Ring cycle. The production design remains fairly abstract, with little sense that there's any deeper meaning behind the concept, but it has a fine dark and otherworldly mythological quality that suits the presentation. It may not be naturalistic, but it creates the right impression. Mime's workshop here in Act I for example is a network of mesh boxes and platforms with a jagged wall of swords on both sides, with a wall of screens behind displaying complex swirls and patterns that evoke a world in turmoil, not yet fully formed.

The abstract simplicity of the staging is carried though to Act II and Act III, but less successfully. The trees in the forest in Act II are formed out of chains, which glisten impressively in the darkness and the moonlight. Fafner is a combination of projections - a seething mass of lava - and dancers. It's perhaps not the best way of staging this problematic scene, but it works relatively well, and at least returns the dying Fafner to his Giant form (well sung by Alexander Tsymbalyuk). Act III relies heavily on lights and projections, and does indeed create an impressive spectacle, but it's a fairly basic and static staging that gives Siegfried and Brünnhilde very little to work with. This is a failing throughout Cassiers' Ring cycle, with very little attention paid to the acting and stage direction and only Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's dancers providing any sense of flow and movement.

Lance Ryan's Siegfried, as suggested earlier, is a little bit imprecise and strained in pitch, but he has stamina and enough character to fill the role in the absence of any real acting direction. On occasion, such as his fine soliloquy outside Fafner's cave, he's often good or at least good enough, which in itself is no small matter. Peter Bronder is a superb Mime; singing well and full of character he pretty much carries Act I. The third Wotan/Wanderer in this Ring Cycle, Terje Stensvold is also good, but it's a static performance that shows little personality or emotional engagement. Johannes Martin Kränzle reprises his excellent Alberich from Das Rheingold, injecting the Dwarf with the necessary darker edge here. What really raises this Siegfried however and is worth waiting for is Nina Stemme's Brünnhilde. In Cassiers' vacant but spectacular production, Lance Ryan alone could never carry the weight of the third Act, but with Barenboim directing the musical force and Nina Stemme's beautiful rich tone giving it real emotional meaning, it gets there in some style.

The specifications of the Arthaus Blu-ray remain very fine for this series of Ring operas. Despite the darkness of the stage and the complex nature of the lighting and projections, the image is clear and stable. The audio tracks too present the singing and orchestral performance well in the PCM stereo and the DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 surround. Other than trailers for other works, there are no extra features on the disc. Subtitles are in German, English, French, Spanish, Italian and Korean. The disc is region-free.