by Lynn on February 4, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

 Stefan Vinke as Siegfried    Photo: Michael Cooper Stefan Vinke as Siegfried
Photo: Michael Cooper

At the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

By Richard Wagner
Directed by François Girard
Conducted by Johannes Debus
Set and Costumes by Michael Levine
Lighting by David Finn
Choreography by Donna Feore
Cast: Wolfgang Abinger-Sperrhacke
Meredith Arwady
Phillip Ens
Christine Goerke
Alan Held
George Molnar
Christopher Purves
Stefan Vinke
Jacqueline Woodley

A stunning production in every way, of Wagner’s mammoth opera of mystery, intrigue, myths, learning to fear and love.

NOTE: Because music/opera isn’t my forte, I am looking at Siegfried as a piece of theatre, hence the director is listed above before the conductor. If this was an ‘opera review’ the order would be reversed.

The Story. Siegfried is the third part of Wagner’s four part Ring of the Nibelung. Siegfried is five hours long so you can imagine the complexity of the story. To say the least, it’s Wagnerian.

Siegfried is a fearless man-child whose mother died in childbirth. He has been raised by the mean-spirited, hateful Mime, a dwarf. Mime’s dream in life is to possess the magical ring of the Nibelung, which was possessed by his equally dastardly brother Alberich, but was then taken by Fafner, a dragon. Mime wants Siegfried to kill Fafner and get the ring for him. The all-powerful ring will allow Mime to rule the world. He will then kill Siegfried.

To kill Fafner, Mime knows that Siegfried will need a magical sword to do it. He has tried to forge the very one but his skill is not good enough to forge the sword. Mime is visited by the one-eyed Wanderer, who is really the god Wotan in disguise. He says that only a person without fear can reforge the magical sword. That person is Siegfried. Siegfried decides to forge the sword himself and is successful.

With sword in hand Siegfried kills Fafner and gets the ring and the dragon’s magical helmet. A Forest Bird warns Siegfried of the treachery of Mime so he kills him. The Forest Bird also tells Siegfried of a woman on a rock surrounded by fire. He travels there; walks through the fire to get to her; sees a covered form in the middle of the rock; unwraps the form and discovers a woman sleeping, This is the immortal Brűnnhilde. One look at her and Siegfried learns fear (t’was ever thus). He has never seen a woman before, sleeping or otherwise, and this person scares him. He awakenes her with a kiss. They look at each other. They are smitten. Siegfried is still a man-child but he knows his love when he sees her. And she knows hers. They fall in love and promise to save the world. The result is that she has to give up her immortality in exchange for love. It all ends on a very high note and an embrace.

The Production. Director François Girard and designer Michael Levine have created the dark, magical, mysterious, ethereal world of the opera. Wagner’s quietly rumbling music in the beginning establishes that dark, forbidding world. The slow curtain rises to reveal Siegfried sitting on a large tree stump, staring out. One does not envision this man-child contemplating anything. He just stares. Behind him is black. Above him is a giant spray of branches that fan out and up, containing ‘debris’ from some conflagration; there is a domed church that is reminiscent of St. Paul’s in London, but I doubt that is the church being referenced, There are characters floating upright. While everything is visible in David Finn’s muted light, two characters are the focus of a moment and then they are illuminated in David Finn’s exquisite lighting. They are Siegfried’s dead parents. I’m thinking that this might be Siegfried’s family tree of sorts. There are other human forms in this branched structure that are floating upside down. I don’t believe they are human, but they do fool you. Characters enter by floating down from the flies. Mime floats down and stands on the tree stump behind Siegfried.

Girard brings his experience in film and television to the production, but it’s his sense of the theatrical that is eye-popping in its invention and simplicity. The fire in which Siegfried forges the sword is created by several delicately waving arms and hands that float up from a lighted ‘caldron’ in the floor. Siegfried places the pieces of the sword he is trying to forge in the middle of the arms that are waving back and forth. Magic.

The Forest Bird (a graceful Jacqueline Woodley) who warns Siegfried of the treachery of Mime, is suspended in mid-air, her arms slowly ‘flapping’ up and down in a costume with voluminous sleeves. The result looks like a bird flapping its wings. Magic.

Fafner the dragon is created by a pyramid of men suspended in air, standing on each other’s shoulders. The rigging is such that the men can float back and forth but still keep the formation. We get the sense of a menacing dragon pacing back and forth. Magic.

The rock on which Brűnnhilde sleeps is an oblong, irregular surfaced structure of white ‘rock’. And then it moves. The ‘rock’ is formed by ‘characters’ clad in white shirts and pants that look like pyjamas, who lay on the ground on their sides, in a slightly foetal position, interlocking with other ‘characters’ thus forming the rock. Magic.

When Siegfried uncovers Brűnnhilde and kisses her, her arm slowly rises and bends back to touch him in a returned embrace. Magic.

When Siegfried discovers the joy of love he claps his hands like a little kid would and he fidgets like an immature boy. That is so right for a man-child. Magic.

And in the last moments of the opera, when Siegfried (Stefan Vinke) and Brűnnhilde (Christine Goerke) are singing gloriously to each other, professing their love, they tentatively walk towards each other, hit their respective high notes, higher than in any of their arias before in the opera; I sit up straight in my seat; they embrace, and the opera is over except for the cheering. Magic.

Stefan Vinke is astonishing. His singing is thrilling, true and confident and even after five hours of singing, ready for that high note that he nails with hammer. I know, the soprano comes in at the four hour mark and just wows the folks with her one scene after he has been singing for all five hours. But not to take anything away from Christine Goerke she has a stirring soprano voice and their duet is beautifully song and acted.

If I have a quibble, it’s that often singers don’t look at the person for whom the song is meant. They sing out to the audience instead. This is especially true of Vinke in his duet with Goerke. However, when it matters they do look at each other. So perhaps I’m being finicky bringing in my theatre experience to another art form and expecting it to apply. No matter. Siegfried is a beautifully produced, directed and sung production. It’s a journey not only for the characters and singers, but also for the audience. And it is magic.

Presented by the Canadian Opera Company

Performances: Feb 5, 11, 14
Cast: 13; 6 men, 3 woman; 4 acrobats.
Running Time: 5 hours, two intervals.

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