A superlative performance as the Wanderer from Tomasz Konieczny in a disappointing Zurich Siegfried

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Wagner, Siegfried: Soloists, Philharmonia Zürich / Gianandrea Noseda (conductor). Broadcast live (directed by Michael Beyer) from Zurich Opera House, 24.5.2024. (JPr)

Tomasz Konieczny (Wotan) and Klaus Florian Vogt (Siegfried) © Monika Rittershaus

Producer – Andreas Homoki
Set and Costume design – Christian Schmidt
Assistant Artistic stage designer – Florian Schaaf
Lighting designer – Franck Evin
Video designer – Tieni Burkhalter
Dramaturgy – Werner Hintze, Beate Breidenbach

Siegfried – Klaus Florian Vogt
Mime – Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke
The Wanderer – Tomasz Konieczny
Alberich – Christopher Purves
Fafner – David Leigh
Erda – Anna Danik
Brünnhilde – Camilla Nylund
The Woodbird – Rebeca Olvera

It is always good to see and hear my favourite Ring opera once again, however, on this occasion, at times it was more like the adagio than the scherzo of the cycle. Gianandrea Noseda and his reliable orchestra brought plenty of energy and atmosphere to the preludes and interludes during this Siegfried but the music often tended to become becalmed at other times: worst of all in the concluding Act III Love Duet (which staging-wise was as romantically combative as I have ever seen it). The performance may not have been that long, but it seemed it. It is fine to have a singer-friendly chamber-like approach to Wagner’s score, highlighting the lines, clarity and the arc of the music, but it does need a certain bombast and bluster at times.

If Andreas Homoki ever had a ‘big idea’ for his Ring he had now given up on it by Siegfried (Michael Fischer’s review here). A couple of things are suggested though: the ‘good’ characters are often in white and ‘bad ones’ in black, while reflecting on the power of the ring seems to cause a physical reaction in Alberich or Wotan. Thankfully, the set is now still a great deal of the time though that is not to say there isn’t some roaming around through various rooms. The furniture we are familiar with from Das Rheingold is now over-sized and mostly over-turned and the set is very dark, often with just the principal characters illuminated. Worst of all in Act III Siegfried (in his patchwork gilet and shorts) has passed through the flames surrounding Brünnhilde’s rock but nothing is shown, not even some smoke, and she greets the sun and there is no sun! I raised my eyebrows at the small scampering Paddington-like bear – a small actor in a costume – Siegfried brings in with him in Act I. That probably would work if it was a ‘Wagner für Kinder’ performance but is not appropriate for something like this.

The confrontation between Mime and Wotan takes place in the dining room in Valhalla we recognise from before, and then some intriguing shadow play involving a large potted palm on a stand conjures up ‘Fafner, der wilde Wurm’, though it doesn’t frighten Siegfried. Elsewhere our ‘hero’ has the anvil, forge, bellows, rasp and hammer etc. he needs to make the sword, Nothung, new again but the staging is rather half-hearted, or Klaus Florian Vogt, who was struggling a little vocally by now, didn’t put maximum effort into it. As for ‘So schneidet Siegfrieds Schwert’ at the end of the first act, I had already worked out that the sword would be wielded on the pot the palm was in!

Rebeca Olvera (Woodbird), Christopher Purves (Alberich), and Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (Mime) © Monika Rittershaus

In the second act, Alberich is in his fur coat and top hat, Fafner’s first appearance is as a scaly tail in a doorway, and the Woodbird is a platinum blonde again in white with swan’s (?) wings. Intriguingly she occasionally wraps herself around Siegfried and not only hands him a horn (that calls out without Siegfried blowing into it) but also leads the dead Fafner and Mime, angel-like, offstage. Some of what we see is against the pile of coal/charcoal from Rheingold or with the dead dragon centre stage. Siegfried set off for Brϋnnhilde’s rock but with Nothung still at the front of the stage his return was inevitable, so he soon came back for it and waved at the audience before the Woodbird egged him on his quest to learn fear.

The Wotan/Erda scene takes place in one of the empty rooms with him looking like Gandalf and her platinum blonde (again), blindfolded and in white. Soon they are grappling over his spear (a gnarled branch at this point). The Wotan/Siegfried scene is then in the over-familiar dining room with Wotan exchanging his spear for the ‘real’ one which Nothung breaks. Then for some reason the curtain comes down before revealing Brϋnnhilde lying atop her (volcanic) rock with a lone straggly pine tree behind it. More awkward clambering up by Siegfried – to release Brϋnnhilde from her breastplate – and then down by both of them. Before that when Camilla Nylund as Brϋnnhilde turned round she had been doing her best not to fall off! Finally the set turns to reveal a large bed, and could the staging be more obvious?

Sadly, there is zero chemistry between Klaus Florian Vogt and Camilla Nylund in this pivotal scene. It is possible to argue that is what Homoki wants us to believe because Brϋnnhilde does not melt into Siegfried’s arms, far from it, I am not sure she has any interest in Siegfried whatsoever before throwing him onto the bed and almost raping him.

There was another superlative performance by Tomasz Konieczny as the ageing Wanderer. Sly, authoritative, defiant to begin with but ultimately broken; it is a portrayal that is a complete triumph, vocally and dramatically. Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke’s Mime was properly sung and he was as cunning, dishonest and despairing as you would want him to be. In my experience Ablinger-Sperrhacke may have been equalled as Mime though rarely better; of course, the late Graham Clark is still the (Rhine)gold standard they must be compared with. Christopher Purves shows Alberich as clearly resentful and malicious but sings the role too cleanly, for me, with too little of the necessary hurt and hatred in his voice. David Leigh was a cavernous Fafner, Anna Danik sang the confused Erda with focussed intensity, whilst Rebeca Olvera was an appealing Woodbird onstage but – through my loudspeakers – sounded rather shrill.

Camilla Nylund disappointed again as Brϋnnhilde appearing rather uncomfortable in her brief appearance. Was it because of the vocal demands (some unsteadiness evident again and several nervous glances to the prompter or possibly conductor) or Homoki’s concept of the role of Brϋnnhilde as immune to Siegfried’s advances. Finally what to make of Klaus Florian Vogt, a singer I have much admired as the eternal Lohengrin. Vogt is always a model of good taste but his ‘heldenchorknaben’ voice with blandish, bleached tones made Siegfried a first cousin to Tamino. Wide-eyed wonderment was Vogt’s one facial expression at least in this opera and his top notes did not exactly ring out with abandon. A valiant attempt though, however Vogt could never sing the role in a larger house and with a less-sympathetic conductor but let’s see how he does in Götterdämmerung.

Jim Pritchard

Featured Image: Camilla Nylund (Brünnhilde) and Klaus Florian Vogt (Siegfried) © Monika Rittershaus

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