Bulgaria Wagner, Siegfried: Soloists, Orchestra of Sofia Opera and Ballet / Constantin Trinks (conductor). Sofia Opera and Ballet Theatre, 10.7.2023. (GT)
In Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle, Siegfried is dominated by male voices with lesser roles for female parts, and this perhaps has made it the least valued of the tetralogy. However, I thought the Siegfried in Plamen Kartaloff’s first Ring cycle was exceptional for the acting, singing, sets, choreography and lighting. Hence, this new staging was keenly anticipated after the first two evenings in Sofia.
The part of Siegfried is inspired by a Grimm fairy tale as Wagner writes, ‘It was about the lad who sets out to learn what fear is, and yet is too stupid to ever learn this. Imagine the shock, when I suddenly realised that this lad is none other than – the young Siegfried, who wins the treasure hoard and awakens Brünnhilde! In the end, Siegfried is also the son of the king, who awakens Sleeping Beauty with a kiss.’
The orchestral prelude to the first act began as the curtain rose to show Sieglinde entering and resting in Mimi’s dwelling, where she gives birth. We see Mime take care of the child and the young Siegfried running across the stage in his maturing to adolescence, with older children running across the stage. The first scene is set at the edge of a forest with Mime’s forge and dwelling on opposite sides of the stage.
The Siegfried of Kostadin Andreev is rugged in his movements, and his voice lays bare his character’s immaturity. Siegfried makes a dramatic entry with a wild bear which he kills gleefully – it is clear this is a coarse, uncultivated adolescent who is unknowing of life and on the cusp of manhood. Correspondingly his voice and acting are unpolished and lacking any warmth. The choreography once again was expertly done with Siegfried asking Mime about who his mother was. Siegfried hears about Fafner in the forest, who has a hoard of gold, and Mime wants the boy to kill him so he can claim the ring.
The Wanderer of Krisztián Cser made an imposing entry bearing a globe, like a beach ball. Behind Mime’s forge, figures watch as the great globe is kicked around like a plaything.
The forging scene is very impressive – another of Kartaloff’s successes of the evening. We see the whole process from filing down the metal of Nothung to pouring it into the cast and finally taking it out and dipping into water, after which Siegfried attempts to strike it and breaks a great rock. The music brilliantly illustrates the smoke and fire against Siegfried’s blows on the anvil, ‘Notung! Notung! Neidliches Schwert!’ One other of the achievements is the stage choreography – every movement and gesture is fully characterised, making the audience believe in the narrative.
In Act II, we are in a great forest with the raised triskeles enshrouded everywhere by foliage and greenery – the vision is quite staggering in its fairy-tale beauty accompanied by the sublime orchestral playing in the Forest Murmurs. Through one ring, we can see the lair of Fafner’s cave, and Wagner’s most colourful music makes us anticipate seeing wildlife emerging from the shrubbery – the scene is mesmerising. Krasimir Dinev’s Mime is one of the stars in this production, with splendid characterisation and singing when confronting Plamen Dimitrov’s Alberich who had a slightly gritty baritone voice. The killing of Fafner (Petar Buchkov) is carried through brutally, as is the despatching of Mime which has a terrible ruthlessness from Andreev’s Siegfried, whose voice seems rough and uncultured, but this coincides with Kartaloff’s conception of a crude, immature boy who knows nothing of humanity, and of love and fear. The Woodbird – in another innovation by Kartaloff – swings in gyrating on a trapeze, singing of a beautiful maiden awaiting Siegfried on a mountain rock, an exceptional moment bringing out all the fairy-tale magic of this production.
The Act III Prelude opens with sublime orchestral playing where we hear the Wanderer motif intertwined with the spear theme and then the gurgling motif of the Rheingold theme in E minor. The scene has three triskeles where Brünnhilde lies asleep as Cser’s Wanderer summons up another wife, ‘Wache, Wala! Wala! Erwache!’ Erda appears from one of the semi-raised triskeles, and she warns him of the twilight of the gods, yet now the god only wishes to be rid of his worries. The Erda of Vesela Yaneva can only tell him that he cannot do anything to prevent Siegfried’s mission, and she wearily descends from the scene. The arrival of Siegfried on the mountaintop is barred by the Wanderer – yet Siegfried engages with him, breaking his spear and opening up the vision of the mountain top.
Siegfried’s encounter of Brünnhilde is momentous as he finds her, ‘Das ist kein Mann!’ and we witness the transformation of Siegfried in his finding in himself new feelings of humanity and love as he removed the shield from the sleeping Brünnhilde.
The awakening of love by Brünnhilde for Siegfried emerged triumphant with emotive orchestral playing under the conducting of Constantin Trinks. The scene was enlightened by warm projected colours enshrining the two lovers’ embrace of each other. Brünnhilde singing, ‘Heil dir, Sonne!’ The final moments closed with the love-smitten Siegfried climbing upon the raised triskele as Brünnhilde sings of love and a future together. An unscripted moment was the return of the Woodbird hovering over the two lovers. The opera closed splendidly with gorgeous orchestral playing accompanying the joyous singing of the embracing lovers Siegfried and Brünnhilde.
In all, the outstanding performances were the steely voice and remarkable characterisation of Krisztián Cser as the Wanderer, the Mime of Krasimir Dinev and the Brünnhilde of Radostina Nikolaeva, together with the charming Woodbird of Ayla Dobreva. Kostadin Andreev characterised every part of the flawed Siegfried from the youthful thug to the loving suitor of Brünnhilde in voice and character. The conducting of Constantin Trinks was remarkable in leading the orchestra and bringing out all the beautiful colours and rhythms of Wagner’s score. Most notably, the German conductor evinced the different motifs of the characters, often delicately intertwined with each other and giving a hint of the narrative in purely musical tones. The visual splendours provided by the lighting design and the multimedia projection were another crucial aspect of this tremendous performance. Often regarded as the odd one out in Wagner’s tetralogy, in Kartaloff’s magnificent staging, Siegfried is a masterpiece.
Director – Plamen Kartaloff
Assistant Director – Julia Krasteva
Set designer – Hans Kudlich
Costumes – Hristiyana Mihaleva-Zorbalieva
Lighting designer – Andrej Hajdinjak
Multimedia – Ivan Lipchev
Head of Production – Nela Stoyanova
Siegfried – Kostadin Andreev
Wanderer – Krisztián Cser
Mime – Krasimir Dinev
Alberich – Plamen Dimitrov
Fafner – Petar Buchkov
Brünnhilde – Radostina Nikolaeva
Erda – Vesela Yaneva
The Woodbird – Ayla Dobreva