“Siegfried” is considered by many to be the most problematic opera in Wagner’s “Ring.” It is not the longest –“Gotterdamerrung” gets that prize, logging in at nearly five and one-half hours — but it has the fewest characters, all of whom, except for the Forest Bird, tend to make long speeches on a variety of subjects. But when it works, it works –glorious and profound, even fun.
Seattle Opera’s production, which was performed at McCaw Hall Wednesday night, may linger on occasion but it rarely gets stuck. With Stephen Wadsworth’s staging, there is usually a sense of purpose and progress, although on Wednesday the final scene seemed overlong, in a major part because the Siegfried, Stig Andersen, was suffering from an infection and his voice was slowly disappearing. Like any company that produces the opera on a regular basis, Seattle has had its share of problems with tenors doing this role. Sometimes they get sick and have trouble doing the role and sometimes they can’t do it at all. Whatever the reason they seem to come to grief with some regularity.
Andersen has sung the role in about every major house in Europe and a few in North America. Experience he has and a good thing too. He agreed to sing, general director Speight Jenkins said in a pre-curtain speech, but it was not hard to discern Andersen’s problems. He avoided high notes whenever possible and found ways to accommodate his voice to the role. His colleagues readily pitched in as did conductor Robert Spano. Andersen’s first act was dicey, the second act — more lyrical, less dramatic — was better, only then to be faced with the major hurdles of the third act, including a fresh Brunnhilde. He was brave to go on; many singers would not. However, It was a pity Wednesday was his debut.
The production was lucky to have Dennis Petersen as Mime. He was a rock of inventive acting and powerful singing in the first and second acts. Indeed, he dominated a good share of the first two acts. Mime always twitches in one form or another, which can easily slip into a cartoon, but Petersen did not. His role was fully formed as a individual — not pleasant but real. He keeps our attention focused on him, which was a good on Wednesday because Andersen had to struggle simply to maintain. Petersen can also sing, which is a handy thing with Mime, but not always present.
Wotan, dressed as the Wanderer, bids farewell to the “Ring” in “Siegfried.” Greer Grimsley turned in, as one has come to expect, a solid and compelling performance. As he did in “Die Walkure” Monday, he remained fresh and strong throughout. However, the disappointment for me was the lack of variation in color and dynamics. Nearly everything sounded about the same — forte — regardless of the situation. Janice Baird’s Brunnhilde is attractive visually. She is slim and can move. However, her voice has a wide, wide vibrato and not much in the middle and even less in the bottom. Her strength lies at the top, and that is secure and strong, projecting into the house like a laser. Maria Streijffert made her company debut Sunday night at Erda. It was a handsome performance. So too Wednesday night. I hope she returns in something else.
In smaller roles were the exemplary Richard Paul Fink, as Alberich; Daniel Sumegi, Fafner, and Julianna Gearhart, Forest Bird.
Without a doubt the final scene between Brunnhilde and Siegfried was affected by the state of Andersen’s throat. However, Wadsworth’s staging did not help either. He made Siegfried into a sometimes giddy 12-year old. Obviously Wadsworth wanted to convey Siegfried’s youth, but no hero who can slay dragons and murder dwarfs, acts in such a silly manner. He may be sometimes overbearing in the first and second acts, but not in final scene. That may be his finest hour. Anderson’s blond wig also did not help.
Wagner is very generous to the orchestra. It has some of the best music, “Siegfriend not excluded. While the music-making lacked often an urgent impluse, Spano delivered handsome breadth, plenty of color and resplendent sound. The famous woodwind solos in the second act came off very well. Thanks to Scott Goff, flute; Ben Hausmann, oboe; Christopher Sereque, clarinet, and Seth Krimsky, bassoon. Four years ago Mark Robbins’ horn calls were splendid. Not on Wednesday.