An enjoyable evening. Much more on the level of acts 2 and 3 yesterday, rather than of the dire Walkure act 1 or the troubled Rheingold. And for me to call Siegfried enjoyable is quite something, so what did the trick?
Mostly, Siegfried himself. John Treleaven’s galumphing, squally Siegfried has been the bugbear of the Covent Garden Ring from its inception, for both me and my partner. This Siegfried, Leonid Zakhozhaev, had an easier stage presence and more secure voice. Alright, so he didn’t exactly look like a callow, strapping youth, but that’s Wagner’s problem not Zakhozhaev’s: if he’d really wanted a callow, strapping youth on stage, he should have thought twice about what he was writing. And, noted, he didn’t quite have a ‘ring’ at the top of his voice, but otherwise it all just came across as more secure, more ‘right’ than Treleaven or, for that matter, Richard Berkeley-Steele at ENO. If this Mariinsky endeavour has provided nothing else (and ‘nothing’ would be a harsh judgment, even of something this troubled), it may well have provided the best Siegfried I’ve ever seen!
Part of the success of the Siegfried character was down to the interaction with those around him. No-one in this Ring, so far (he said, tinged with optimism), has reached anywhere near the Karita Mattila/Natalie Dessay/Felicity Palmer levels of dramatic engagement, but Mime (Vasily Gorshkov) and Alberich (Nikolai Putilin) are the nearest we’ve had and played well with Siegfried. The same can’t be said of Putilin’s Wotan (general consensus in our group: we’d rather have had yesterday’s back, rather than Wednesday’s): his underpowered performance was exacerbated by the duration of the role and he seemed to start distantly and fizzle out further as the thing went on.
And the women? Well, Erda (Zlata Bulycheva) delivered her pronouncements ably, again coping with the curtain rail but this time denuded of its bead curtain, all but a single dangly bit on the end of the rail. What the hell was that about? The Woodbird was draped in beads and shuffled around with a distinctive wavey-up-and-down hand gesture, followed by a troupe of mystical animals formed of a dancer wearing a mask and balancing on another’s shoulders. Nope, no reason for that either. She sang well, in a slightly more assertive way than we’re accustomed to our Woodbirds singing, but effectively nonetheless.
And so to Olga Sergeyeva’s Brunnhilde (as distinct from yesterday’s Olga Savova: do keep up). She got off to an unfortunate start: the rock on which she was put to sleep was present throughout the preceding scene and the lights failed to go down properly in the scene transition, leaving her to clamber conspicuously into the position from which she could awake from supposedly long slumbers. Sigh. And when she awoke she certainly made her presence felt. Overall it was a harsh voice at times, and with a pronounced vibrato that made me (and the other half) think that Gwyneth Jones was back. In fact there were moments when all the undulations made me feel quite woozy. She was, however, effective in quieter passages, such as when telling Siegfried about her life as an ‘eternal’. In fact, her dramatic engagement with the role was strong, and she moved confidently about the stage and sang to Siegfried, rather than only to the prompter or to Gergiev as some others are wont to do.
Speaking of whom, somehow I think his conducting found something a bit more ‘complete’ in this than in the previous operas. The first act, with Mime/Siegfried giving way to Mime/Wanderer and then back to Siegfried again, flowed convincingly. Once again, his reining-in of the volume to accommodate the singers seemed evident. When noise was demanded, it was duly let free: the timpanist in particular abused his instrument like a man possessed.
The staging is still dismal. Either it intruded less on Siegfried or I’ve just stopped noticing it. It’s like an acted concert performance with mood lighting, and some clambering. These statues could be anything, frankly, and when they turn into furnaces, rocks, moody forest scenes, etc. etc. you just have to wonder why? The story has no dramatic arc whatever. No matter what you thought of Keith Warner’s clutterbucket production for Covent Garden, it at least gave some sense of relative position to the characters, and atmosphere, with different spaces for different scenes. This staging is bright to a fault, bland, random, and adds absolutely nothing to proceedings.
The forging scene was well acted and the staging here provided at least a demarcated space in which people could interact: Mime and Siegfried clanged their own anvil (except Siegfried, who kept missing the metal bar that made the ‘clang’ sound, but the whole thing can’t be easy when singing as well). The furnace was under one of the statues: why? The dragon-slaying scene eschewed big effects in favour of a booming voice from the ceiling and strategic strobe lightning and changes of colour, which wasn’t without some merit. Which is just as well, because strobes and changes of light seem to be used to hide a multitude of sins.
I’m back to carping again, and I shouldn’t be because this performance was a genuinely enjoyable experience, which is more than can be said for the broad sweep of Rheingold or most of the first act of Walkure. And, in fact, is more than I’ve said about other performances of Siegfried.
What will Gotterdammerung bring? Well, a new Brunnhilde for starters. Keeping everything crossed…