Siegfried in Leipzig

About to experience the third episode in the Leipzig Ring, I was a little apprehensive. The First Act of Siegfried is my least favourite in the whole of the cycle primarily because of its racist content but also because I am no admirer of Wagner’s concept of a hero. Yet, as so often, the work in its entirety bowled me over with its interplay of wondrous music and drama. And let it be recognised at once that the true heroes of this Siegfried were Ulf Schirmer and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Yes, there was the sweep and impulse of passion for the “big” moments, the sweet lyricism of the forest scenes and, in the supportive acoustics of the Leipzig opera house, the sheer beauty of sound from the orchestra. But, as in Rheingold and Walküre, what I found most satisfying was the attention to detail in “the passages in between”: the apposite placing of phrases; the perceptive interpretation of particular motifs. Let me give two, perhaps trivial, examples. At the beginning of Act Two, the Fafner motif in the brass was played with a weirdness of timbre which caught exactly the eccentricity of the giant.  Then towards the end of Act Three when Brünnhilde likens her threatened virginity to a calm stream about to be disturbed, the delicacy with which the strings played the musical image of this accompanying the words “trübe mich nicht” was extraordinary. Schirmer was happy to linger on pauses and some might have found his interpretation too slow but for me his pacing of the piece was exemplary.

Wagner imposes, of course, impossible demands on the title role, almost all of which were handsomely met by Stefan Vinke. With his powerful metallic tenor, he was so stalwart of voice and acted the part with such energy that to add the qualification that in the Forest Murmurs scene he could have sung with a lighter, more lyrical, tone might seem to be ungenerous. His Brünnhilde, Katherine Broderick, could not match him in terms of volume and, at moments, put her soprano under too much pressure, but her dramatic engagement helped to ensure that the finale reached a suitably emotional climax. Egils Silins was a weighty Wanderer, endowing the text with meaningful emphasis. Dan Karlström, singing brightly and with a comic touch, did what he could to make Mime less tiresome while Tuomas Pursio offered a particularly well sung and engagingly portrayed Alberich.  As Erda, Claudia Huckle again impressed.

Rosamund Gilmore’s production was, as we were now led to expect, perceptive, imaginative and thoroughly true to the work. One reason, perhaps, why I found Act One so tolerable was her use of dancers, sprouting out of the forest in different guises to illustrate the dialogue. Act Two got off to a brilliant start with a dramatically razor-sharp encounter between the Wanderer and Alberich. A pity that the appearance and particularly the killing of Fafner were both rather silly and the stage was left cluttered with the residue of this scene for far too long. But then we had a delectable danced Waldvogel to lead Siegfried to his bride. Act Three was a huge success, from its dark beginning, a sleepy Erda, strewn in an all-enveloping black costume, dragging the Norns along, through the Wanderer’s knowingly futile attempt to bar Siegfried’s progress along a path cut through jagged ruins, to the final tableau with the lovers, gradually and not over-impulsively, reaching their union in a crimson and blue light.