An Unremarkable Siegfried at the Liceu

SpainSpain  Wagner: Siegfried, Liceu Symphony Orchestra, Josep Pons (conductor), Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 17 & 19.3.2015 (JMI)

Photo: (c) Antonio Bofill.
© Antonio Bofill


Siegfried: Lance Ryan/Stefan Vinke
Brünnhilde: Iréne Theorin/Catherine Foster
Wanderer: Albert Dohmen/Greer Grimsley
Mime: Peter Bronder/Gerhard Siegel
Alberich: Jochen Schmekenbecher/Oleg Bryjak
Erda: Ewa Podleś/Maria Radner
Fafner: Andreas Hörl
Waldvogel: Cristina Toledo

Production: Bühnen der Stadt Köln
Direction: Robert Carsen (original)
Eike Ecker (revival)
Sets and Costumes: Patrick Kinmonth
Lighting: Manfred Voss

Barcelona’s Liceu continues their Wagner Tetralogy with this unconvincing Siegfried. It seemed to me the least interesting of the three operas so far in terms of the staging; musically, it was no more than correct, and the casts were uneven.

 Robert Carsen’s production of the first two operas offered an interesting viewpoint focused on ecology, or rather on human selfishness as a cause of the destruction of the planet. One could understand it in Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, but things have evolved in Siegfried, and the concept has begun to disappear. In Act I, Mime and Siegfried are living in a trailer in a sort of dump with waste and garbage everywhere, which seems to return to the original concept from Rheingold. But in the second act the stage is full of trees, and it could not be more traditional and conventional. Finally, the last act takes place on a bare stage with Brünnhilde in the middle of it.

 Once again, the Liceu’s musical director was in the pit, and I found his conducting unexciting. I think that Josep Pons is an excellent symphonic conductor and does remarkable worker with orchestras, but he has never been convincing in the pit. His conducting was short on nuance and rather long on orchestral volume. Siegfried is perhaps the one opera in The Ring that benefits most from a great conductor. The Liceu orchestra has clearly improved under Mr. Pons, which is positive news indeed since in recent years it had real problems.

 Lance Ryan cancelled his first performances which meant that Stefan Vinke had to sing Siegfried three times in five days. Once Mr. Ryan recovered, the tenors have alternated as Siegfried, independent of whether the performance is by the first or second cast.

 Lance Ryan has never been a heldentenor or heroic tenor. His voice has always been somewhat whitish, yet he has become almost a constant as the young Siegfried in major opera houses because he is one of the few tenors able to endure till the end of the opera. His evolution in recent years is rather worrying: his voice has lost amplitude, and he is almost more suited to sing Mime than Siegfried. Stefan Vinke demonstrated his power in the performance. If there is a character who demands a real heldentenor, it’s Siegfried, and I recognize that Mr. Vinke is worthy of praise and admiration. His voice is perfectly suited to the character, but the timbre is rather unattractive, and he pays little attention to nuances, merely exhibiting decibels most of the time.

 The Liceu had two outstanding performers in the role of Brünnhilde, and if one could combine the two it would produce an exceptional interpreter. Iréne Theorin was convincing and has a richer voice than Catherine Foster in the middle range, but her top notes are rather shouted, which is not the case with Ms. Foster.

 Veteran Albert Dohmen gave life to the Wanderer and his performance was very good. Given his vocal evolution, he is now at his best as the Wanderer. Greer Grimsley was a pleasant surprise in the second cast.

 Gerhard Siegel was an excellent Mime, in terms both of singing and acting. His voice is more important that what we are used to hearing in this character. Jochen Schmeckenbecher and Oleg Bryjak did fine as Alberich.

 Ewa Podleś was a well-suited interpreter of Erda, with sonorous low notes and good volume in the middle. It was difficult to understand the presence in the second cast of  Maria Radner who was mostly inaudible. Andreas Hörl was a correct Fafner, and the same can be said of Cristina Toledo as Waldvogel.

José M. Irurzun

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