Tuesday, 4 October 2005

A lucky bastard goes to 'Siegfried'

A friend had the good fortune to attend his first Wagner opera: 'Siegfried' at Covent Garden. I'm very happy to report it wasn't wasted on him...

Wow! Wow! Just fucking WOW! You were right, and Perigo is wrong. As wrong as Rand was on Beethoven.

I walked out of that feeling like I had *lived* through that opera, rather than merely watched it. It was exactly as you say: listeners with a three -minute span of attention should look elsewhere. This was five hours of total immersion!

Where to start? I guess the great thing about this production was that the singing was first rate. Siegfried himself was tireless with a very strong voice, and, although I don't have any point of comparison, it seemed to me he expressed the irrepressible joie de vivre of Siegfried just right. I was also blown away by the bass voice of the dragon, Fafner. His voice, was, according to my partner (a soprano singer herself) cleverly amplified, but the booming depth of it was simply wonderful.

However, if there was a show stealer, it was certainly Wotan. The richness, depth and sheer volume of the singer's voice was unmistakeable. And the two stand-out scenes for me both involve his character. The first was the interchange between Wotan, Fafner and Alberich at the
opening of Act II, where Wotan's regal and sumptuous themes are matched by the even more imperious themes of the dragon. This was just mind-blowingly good, and I don't think I've ever appreciated the sheer staunchness and masculinity of the male voice as much as I have while experiencing this booming interchange.

The second was the opening scene to ACT III, where Wotan laments his imminent loss of power. Here the power of John Tomlinson's voice was clear to everyone. This scene brought the highlight of the production itself. Wotan lay on a very large square tilted at an angle that
spun around quite quickly, with swirling clouds somehow projected onto it. It really was a glorious spectacle, and quite befitting the scene. These imperious interchanges were what really grabbed me, however there was plenty of entertainment to be had elsewhere, in particular through the hilarious Act I interchanges between Siegfried and the dwarf, Mime.

The production itself ranged from fabulous (see above), to appalling. Fortunately, the appalling bits did not interfere with the spectacle too much, although the post-modern touches were all too clear. The central piece in Mime's cave throughout Act I was a plane wreckage, and much of the action took place on or around a broken wing. Bizarre. And the "anvil" which gets broken by Siegfried's sword, Nothung, looked to me like a hospital trolley.

Somehow none of this was too intrusive however. The low point was most certainly the sequence where Siegfried goes off by himself in Act II to ponder about his parents in the forest. At this point some sort of stuffed deer and what looked like a stuffed sheep were wheeled in on two
more hospital trolleys. At this point I was shuffling irritatedly in my seat, but I needn't have worried too much because things generally got better from there, except for some weird metallic box on the 'dragon's' head.

And of course the Royal Opera House is itself a wonderful setting, and the orchestra first class. Fortunately, I had forked out a bit extra to get central seats and ensure that we weren't craning our necks around corners or being blocked from part of the view. For a five hour spectacle, it was certainly worth it.

At the end of each Act the audience went wild, and I have never heard such applause for any performance of anything, anywhere as at the end. Nor had my partner, who is obviously far more experienced in these things. The applause for the singers was certainly deserved, however as I stood there clapping like mad with the rest of the cheering, bellowing audience, I felt that I
was clapping Wagner himself more than anyone. I was totally gripped by the whole wondrous spectacle and the time flew by. What a wonderful achievement this epic is, and I still have three more to experience!

You were right PC; today I truly felt like a lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky bastard.


  1. Crikey! What lunatic would dare to call Perigo wrong? He won't be lucky for much longer.

    I thought you might have spotted PC that the dragon was a bass, not a baritone!

  2. "What lunatic would dare to call Perigo wrong?" Who would do such a thing, eh? ;^)

    "I thought you might have spotted PC that the dragon was a bass, not a baritone!"

    There you go. Fixed now. My bad. Speaking of Fafner ... I had the good fortune last year to get the seats front and centre for a recital given by some of the performers in the Adelaide Ring Cycle. All singers were spectacularly good, but the voice of the chap singing Fafner was ~enormous~. Sitting just two metres away, when he started to sing he parted my hair, and I've worn it that way ever since -- I was literally blown back in my chair, and I'll swear I could feel a wind blowing through the hall. As you say, just fucking Wow! :-)


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