Munich’s Wagner Tetralogy Features a Brilliant Siegfried

GermanyGermany Wagner: Siegfried, Bayerisches Staatsorchester, Kirill Petrenko (conductor), Nationaltheater, Munich, 26.3.2015 (JMI)

Siegfried: Stephen Gould
Brünnhilde: Catherine Naglestad
Wanderer: Thomas J. Mayer
Mime: Andreas Conrad
Alberich: Tomasz Konieczny
Fafner: Christof Fischesser
Erda: Qiulin Zhang
Forest Bird: Iulia Maria Dan
Production: Bayerische Staatsoper
Direction: Andreas Kriegenburg
Sets: Harald B. Thor
Costumes: Andrea Schraad
Lighting: Stefan Bolliger
Choreography: Zenta Haerter

Munich’s Ring Cycle continues under the baton of Kirill Petrenko. Last month the first two titles were presented, and the Cycle was completed this week. Like the earlier operas, Siegfried was a musical triumph, with a remarkable cast in the main roles and an imaginative stage production.

 I had seen this production, which bears the signature of Andreas Kriegenburg, a couple of times in the past. I liked it very much then: Mr. Kriegenburg does imaginative work, especially in the first act. Now the element of surprise is no longer there, and my former impression is mitigated by that. This is a somewhat childlike staging of the opera, done as if it were a fairy tale, which seems perfectly appropriate: Siegfried is just an overgrown boy, absolutely ignorant of life beyond its most primal aspects.

To carry out his concept, Mr. Kriegenburg uses numerous extras who mainly comprise the scenery, as was done in Das Rheingold. The extras form a forest in Act I and move the different props around to create the house of Mime. In the forge scene, the extras are in fact the props themselves, and it’s done with a lot of imagination and a sense of humor. The biggest problem is that there is too much movement on stage, which is a considerable distraction. In the second act they form a dragon with eyes and teeth, a recreation that could have been done by La Fura dels Baus. In Act III Erda arises, surrounded by extras. The Brünnhilde’s Rock scene is somewhat irregular; I didn’t like the idea of showing the fire through a large plastic moved by the extras. The love scene between aunt and nephew, with a large red cloth covering the entire stage and a bridal bed in the center, was more successful.

 In the hands of Kirill Petrenko, the musical direction was once again the high point of the evening. Often one’s opinion of a performance depends on expectations, and I have to admit that mine were very high here. I was somewhat disappointed with Mr. Petrenko’s conducting in the first act, and I had the impression that the excessive stage movement might have influenced him. Things were better in the second act, and by Act III Petrenko was what I was anticipating, simply outstanding. As usual, his tempos were quite lively: no less than 27 minutes faster than Kent Nagano in this house three years ago, and 19 minutes faster than Josep Pons a few days ago at Barcelona’s Liceu. Under Petrenko’s baton the Bayerisches Staatsorchester was once again spectacular.

 Today Stephen Gould sets the standard as Siegfried, especially since Lance Ryan has weakened in this part. Mr. Gould is a powerful tenor with a wide and attractive voice who performs well on stage. His Siegfried deserved the audience’s sonorous cheers, which I joined without any misgivings.

 Catherine Naglestad has always been Brünnhilde in this production of Siegfried and has always succeeded at it. This was not an exception to the rule: she offered a most convincing performance in every aspect. The American soprano has not taken the step of incorporating the other two Brunnhildes into her repertoire, and I hope she continues that.

 Thomas J. Mayer was again Wotan, known as the Wanderer here. From my point of view he did better with the other two Wotans since his baritone is at its weakest in the low notes. I prefer him in Rheingold and Walküre.

 Andreas Conrad was a remarkable Mime in the best tradition of a character tenor. Still, I have the interpretation of Gerhard Siegel at the Liceu fresh in my memory, and I prefer it to Mr. Conrad’s.

 Tomasz Konieczny repeated his strong Alberich. Contralto Qiulin Zhang also did well as Erda, with a voice well-suited to the character but with signs of fatigue at the top. Both Christof Fischesser (Fafner) and Iulia Maria Dan (Forest Bird) were good.

 The theatre was packed. The audience was delighted with the performance, and especially with the success of Kirill Petrenko. There was also strong enthusiasm for Stephen Gould.



José M. Irurzun

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