Review: In the Met’s ‘Siegfried,’ Singers Transcend the Staging
Pity the opera directors who decide to stage Wagner’s “Ring” — for in doing so they have to figure out what to do with “Siegfried.”
The third installment of Wagner’s epic, which returned to the Metropolitan Opera in Robert Lepage’s tech-happy production on Saturday, has tripped up even the smartest of “Ring” directors. Blame the source material: a title role both tedious and impractically difficult; a repetitive libretto sitting somewhere between coming-of-age adventure and dark comedy; a singing dragon.
Mr. Lepage’s staging doesn’t do much to help the problems baked into “Siegfried,” a weak spot of the “Ring” that lacks the breakneck pace of “Das Rheingold,” the heart-rending humanity of “Die Walküre” or the textbook-perfect tragedy of “Götterdämmerung.” What it does help, however, is the problem of the 45-ton machine so central to his production as its primary set piece.
Instead of relying on the unreliable behemoth to be as kinetic as in the earlier “Ring” operas, Mr. Lepage here treats the machine as more of a canvas for Pedro Pires’s impressive projections. Three-dimensional, interactive videos create the illusion of leaves rustling beneath Siegfried’s feet, of a pond’s surface being truly reflective.
Is the novelty of video enough to carry more than four hours of music? It does add clarity — if a bit unimaginatively — to Wagner’s score, not unlike, as the art critic Roberta Smith once wrote in The New York Times, seat-back titles, “enriching meaning and making it more accessible.” But it is still, in the end, one superficial form of stage magic superimposed on another.
Block out the projections for a moment, and you’ll see just how little Mr. Lepage actually engages the opera and its ideas. Where some directors might aim to comment on the material, he seems content to merely illustrate. When characters aren’t forging swords or fighting dragons, they are bafflingly static. Not for the first time in his “Ring,” stage exits are made with an awkwardly quiet walk to the wings.
But good singers can lift a subpar staging. In this “Siegfried,” they transcend it.
Stefan Vinke is making his Met debut in the titular heldentenor role, armed with insouciant high notes and a bright smile. His heroism occasionally veers into howling, and the strain in his voice doesn’t always befit a boyish naïf who knows no fear. (He shares the run with Andreas Schager, who is capable of breezing through the role’s most challenging passages with the shocking ease of Siegfried wrangling a bear.) But Mr. Vinke is a pleasure to watch; he leans into the opera’s comedy — and his character’s ignorance, which often comes off as idiocy.
As the scheming Mime, who takes in the orphaned Siegfried in the hope of using the boy’s strength to gain the ring, Gerhard Siegel infused his tenor with venom. Mime’s brother, Alberich, who in “Das Rheingold” commits the original sin of the “Ring,” only returns in “Siegfried” for brief moments in Act II. But those scenes were among the most memorable on Saturday.
That’s because Alberich is sung by Tomasz Konieczny, who is also making his Met debut and continues to stand out even among extraordinary colleagues. His resonant bass ricochets off the planks of the machine as he imbues Alberich with dignified authority.
His confrontation with Wotan — presented in “Siegfried” as the Wanderer, dressed like a Gandalf of the Wild West and performed by Michael Volle — is a high point of the opera. Or, rather, low: They are both booming basses, equally mighty in a way that illustrates, with only music, how alike these antipodal characters may be.
If women seem absent, it’s because there are so few: the whistle-high Erin Morley as the Woodbird; the solemn Karen Cargill as Erda; and, of course, the fiery soprano Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde.
It’s remarkable that anyone in this cast was singing so well in a matinee that began at 11:30 a.m. But Ms. Goerke also had to feign sleep onstage for nearly 20 minutes before letting out a resounding “Heil dir, Sonne!” that penetrated through swelling fortes in the orchestra, crisp and controlled under the baton of Philippe Jordan.
Ms. Goerke’s vigor only grew in a crescendo toward all-out majesty in the final scene, a courtship with Mr. Vinke that ended with their leaping into love and matching high C’s. For this climax of old-fashioned operatic thrills, they weren’t even standing on the machine — as if they existed outside Mr. Lepage’s production entirely.