Monday, March 29, 2010

Siegfried: Lance Ryan et al.

After I saw this third opera of the Furasic Ring, the publicity stunt by which this DVD-set has been promoted --"The Ring of the 21st Century"-- crossed my tolerance threshold. Did they see the Copenhagen Ring before formulating that PR-line?

La Fura dels Baus did manage to produce a mind-blowing Rheingold. There the timing was perfect, an exquisite combination of their theatrical language with clever ideas that uncovered a different face of that opera. Add to that some superb singing and yes, you may say their Rheingold had set a very high standard and will remain a reference to whoever decides to mount The Ring in the future.

In Die Walkure, instead, Carlos Padrissa started relying too much on video imagery. I'm not complaining about video if it supported the drama instead of diverting our attention from the lack of  theatrical ideas. That second opera was nevertheless wonderfully sung and the verve of the libretto somehow makes you tolerate the excessive use of video.

Siegfried is less crowdy and less busy, and the lack of director's ideas becomes more apparent. Padrisa tries to compensate by throwing the video stuff at you but only to further tickle your annoyance and by the time we reached the hour four of the show, I was this close to stop the DVD...
On the positive note, this opera is as wonderfully sung as the previous 2, and even if there are a few great moments on the stage, it's hard to forgive too much pointless video trash [Fura is usually so much better than this Robert Lepage kind of videology].

There is no weak link among the singers in this production. It is a very high standard of wagnerian singing with Lance Ryan whose performance is simply outstanding. He keeps the level of singing defined in the previous two operas. Juha Uusitalo  confirms again that he's an extraordinary Wotan, and Jennifer Wilson, in her relatively short appearance, is a brilliant Brunnhilde.  Mehta instead still struggles with the brass section of his otherwise very good orchestra, but all in all, this Ring is to me the best Zubin Mehta has ever delivered in the Wagner repertoire.

The things get more complicated with the scenic part of the production. You can cope well with Act 1, simply because it follows the libretto and builds on the fantastic ideas presented in the Rheingold. In that sense the return to Nibelheim is a fortunate part for Padrisa, so that --in spite of the horrid costume and the Bob-Marley-wig on Siegfried-- the action keeps you alert and the video imagery is OKish. But then comes the second act and this bird that looks like a flying reptile, whose presence only diminish the role of the dragon -- yet another static contraption. That's where the action falls flat and the show never fully takes off again. That becomes irritating when you realize that the video imagery took over: Video of Jaume Pensa's sculpture on fire, fly over the snowy mountains' summits,... video that divert your attention rather than focalize it to any aspect of the drama. Only the last tableau and the wake of Brunnhilde  looks good, but that cannot resuscitate the show.

Almost all the Ring productions that I could see so far had trouble with Siegfried, except the Copenhagen Ring! I hope La Fura saved the best for the end and Die Gotterdammerung will be scenically better than Siegfried.

I feel I should add a sentence to relativize some of my perhaps harsh comments: This is the top-notch production and the intention was to produce the all-time-best Ring. While the first opera arguably responded to that ambition, the second one was much less convincing, and the third is definitely under par. That however  does not mean the production isn't good. Many-many big stages would be more than happy to host such a production, so...

On the scale 1-5 :
SIEGFRIED Lance Ryan 5
WANDERER Juha Uusitalo 5
FAFNER Stephen Milling 5
BRUNNHILDE Jennifer Wilson 5
MIME Gerhard Siegel  5ALBERICH Franz-Josef Kapellmann  5
ERDA Catherine Wyn-Rogers  4

Carlos Padrissa's production (for La Fura dels Baus) 2

Zubin Mehta

  Overall impression:  3-4 

Two clips I find the best:

to better appreciate Lance Ryan

the one not great scenically but the singing makes your jaw drop (NB at this point Lance had already about 4 hours of heavy singing under his belt)

The Siegfried finale is my favorite musical moment of the whole Ring. The following video is  not from this production. ;)
Listen to Elizabeth Connell and Stephen Gould who sang this finale with  Berliner Philharmonikers in 2007, in Berlin:

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