Saturday, August 22, 2009

Seattle Opera - Wagner’s Siegfried, August 12, 2009.

Story. Siegfried's mother Sieglinde dies after giving birth to him, and he is raised by Alberich's brother Mime to be a brave young man. Siegfried manages to restore the sword Nothung and uses it to slay Fafner who has turned into a dragon to guard the ring and the gold. After tasting the dragon's blood, Siegfried can understand the woodbird which leads him to the fiery rock where Brunnhilde is sleeping. He wakes her up by kissing her and the two eventually fall in love.

Conductor – Robert Spano; Mime – Dennis Petersen, Siegfried – Stig Andersen, The Bear – JC Casiano, The Wanderer – Greer Grimsley, Alberich, Fafner, Forest Bird – Julianne Gearhart, Erda, Brunnhilde, Horn Call – Mark Robins.

This is a rather simple story, and at no time do they have more than three actors on the stage (as far as I can remember). And somehow Wagner manages to write a 4-hour opera (plus an hour of intermission) out of it.

Someone said it best about how simple the story was: Siegfried grows up, kills his foster father Mime, restores the sword, kills the dragon, revives Brunnhilde and marries her. So I should be excused to find the opera a bit drawn out (I am sure Anne fell asleep during the show) and a bit tough to focus at times.

Yesterday was a day off for the Ring. Anne and I flew down to San Francisco to have dinner with Ellie, Joe and Jessica. This morning we woke up at 6 am, had breakfast with Joe and Jessica, flew back up to Seattle, checked in at the hotel, and walked to Seattle Center to catch the 4:30 pm lecture. That craziness may have contributed to how tired I feel also. Perhaps the lesson here is: focus on going to the concerts and don’t try to squeeze so many other things. Fat chance.

A few words on some interesting facts we learned from the lectures so far. Wagner wrote the libretti first (beginning around 1848), starting with Gotterdammerung and working backwards to Das Rheingold. Music, however, was written in “chronological” order. But between Acts II and III of this third opera were 12 or so years during which Wagner worked on other projects including Tristan and Isolde and Der Meistersinger von Nurnberg. His style supposed changed considerably during this time. I frankly would be hard pressed to tell the difference.

Before the opera began, a gentleman (Speight Jenkins) came on stage to make a short announcement: Stig Andersen had been sick but felt good enough to sing the role of Siegfried. I had never heard Andersen before so didn’t know how he would sound if he was 100% healthy; as it was, he sounded quite weak.

Given the prominent role of Siegfried in this and the last opera, it was a surprise to us that he was basically a young and somewhat crude boy. The notes did say Wagner probably didn’t realize it would be difficult to get a young tenor to sing such a demanding role. While there was nothing “wrong” with Siegfried, he wasn’t a sympathetic figure as he went about his bumbling ways. Perhaps we would get a deeper insight if we see the opera for a second time?

While Wagner had well-defined leitmotifs (Valhalla’s is particularly distinct), most of the time they appear in the orchestral music, the singing is usually part of the “accompaniment” (for lack of a better word.) I am sure people with better knowledge of Wagner’s music would appreciate this arrangement, but to me it is a bit hard to follow. I get the same reaction with his other operas such as The Flying Dutchman and Tristan & Isolde.

A rather disappointing opera that I might have appreciated more if I had not tired myself out.

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