Bayreuth Festival 2022 Review: Siegfried
Tomasz Konieczny, Andreas Schager Shine as Schwarz’s Production Dives into the AbsurdBy Mauricio Villa
(Credit: Enrico Nawrath)
And now we have entered the realm of the absurd.
Those who read my reviews for “Das Rheingold” and “Die Walküre,” know that I was quite critical of director Valentin Schwarz’s approach, which proved hostile to the original libretto in most of his “creative” choices. But this production of “Siegfried” somehow managed to push beyond those limits to somehow break the third opera in Wagner’s tetralogy.
This is Not Wagner’s “Siegfried”
The heroic and naïve teenager Siegfried (or at least that’s what Wagner intended) is presented here as an alcoholic and violent person who doesn’t think twice about putting Mime’s head inside an oven and then inside a fish tank right afterwards. The sword “Nothung,” which was literally nothing in “Die Walküre,” suddenly appears in the first act of “Siegfried” as a thin fighting sword hidden inside Mime’s crotch. There’s no forging of the sword, even if Wagner gives about 20 minutes of music to narrative this very action. The ring is a boy in his thirties wearing a yellow t-shirt who is sits besides old hospital-ridden Fafner (who is “supposed” to be a dragon, but most definitely isn’t one in this version). During his “great battle” with Siegfried, Fafner gets out of bed and uses a walking frame, then dies of a heart attack after Siegfried violently pushes him to the floor. There’s no dragon blood to make Siegfried understand the language of the bird, which is now one of the nurses that attends the old sick Fafner and that flirts with the drunkard Siegfried during the “flute scene” (as you might imagine, there’s no flute at all). Siegfried wounds Mime with his sword but then gruesomely suffocates him with a cushion (with some help by the “Golden boy”).
There’s no awakening scene at all as Brünnhilde enters the third act with her face covered in bandages (if we follow Schwarz’s dramaturgy she has just received an aesthetic face operation) followed by her servant who I guess was the horse Grane humanized. The love duet that concludes the opera ends with the couple Brünnhilde-Siegfried leaving the scene in a car. I could honestly not recognize the opera Siegfried at all in this staging.
What’s more, I couldn’t grasp at what Schwarz was trying to do by transforming the complex archetypes in Wagner’s original story into one-dimensional stereotypes.
At Least We Have the Singers
In the title role, Andreas Schager, a true Heldentenor, possessed the stamina and secure voice emission and placement technique to enable him to sing the first act and the terrible “forging” scene (with its constant ascensions to forte high Gs and A naturals) with a heroic sound. It is always a miracle to me when a tenor manages to get to the end of this long and exhausting opera with his voice intact. Schager did a great job, but the high register sounded quite affected. After an impressive first act, the very last sustained A natural on “so scheneidet Siegfrieds Schwert!” sounded strained and hoarse and he could barely hold it.
With the second act, the tessitura is much more central and Schager’s vocal performance was exciting and brilliant as a result. But in the third act, trouble with the high notes returned. Schager rushed past the high B flat on “Jetlz lock’ich ein liebes Gesell,” turning a quarter note into a semiquaver. And by the time the love duet arrived, he even had trouble holding the A flat on”Sei mein!” and had to abandon the note quickly instead of holding it for one measure and a half as written in the score. He went through the several Gs and As of the duet timidly. But despite all this, it also proved Schager’s control of his voice and how he was able to save a performance even when his top register was not at its best. Nothing affected his acting, which was energetic, passionate, and fully committed to the stage business imposed on him.
Arnold Bezuyen reprised the role of the Nibelung Mime. But in contrast to “Rheingold” where he has a short appearance, here he has to sing the second largest role of this opera. The tessitura is very high with constant ascensions to As, B flats, and a sustained B natural. But even if the B natural sounded forced and plain, Bezuyen sang effortlessly with his lyric voice and natural emission. His voce is not powerful or loud, but it easily carries over the orchestra. Moreover, the character of Mime does not need to sing over a forte orchestra nor does not require heroic singing. Actorally, he offered a humanized characterization of the role that was far removed from the clownish and overacted interpretation that is usually seen.
Tomasz Konieczny portrayed again Wotan / The Wanderer. The role is shorter than in the previous operas, but it has the highest tessitura and demands lots of bravura and powerful singing, especially in the third act duet with Erda and his confrontation with Siegfried. In both scenes, Konieczny delivered potent F sharps. He show off his lyricism and legato singing in the scene with Mime, which is written with long expansive lines, mostly in the middle register. In sum, Konieczny delineated a beautiful, dramatic arc from the enigmatic and solemn Wotan in the first act, to the cynic and teasing person during the scene with Alberich in Act two, to the despair and struggle with Erda, to, finally, his serious confrontation full of misery and abandonment with Siegfried in Act three. After seeing him in the three operas, there is no doubt that Konieczny is one of the most important Wotan interpreters performing today.
To my surprise, Daniela Köhler sang the short part of Brünnhilde in this opera. As mentioned before, I find it surprising that in casting this “cycle”- performing the four operas that conform “Der Ring des Nibelunguen” one after the other – they chose different singers for important roles across the different operas. This choice does not help dramatically at all to make the story believable. But even if Brünnhilde’s part is short in this opera, Köhler does not have the vocal or dramatic resources to sing this part. She has a dark round timbre in the middle register up to high G, but her lower range has minimal projection. Moreover, her upper register loses volume, the sound opens and loses the round quality, and her high Bs and C sound strident. She also has an extensive vibrato that blurs her diction and causes intonation issues while she is holding forte high notes.
Olafur Sigurdason continued with his amazing characterization of Alberich. His powerful metallic voice and his expressive fraseo dominated his appearances in Act two.
Wilhelm Schwinghammer was a solvent Fafner with a solid low register and a dark powerful timbre.
Okka von der Damerau continued to be a dramatic and mystical Erda, and Alexandra Steiner sang and beautifully performed in the role of “the bird of the forest;” her potent lyrical voice was a major surprise, considering that this role is usually sang by leggero sopranos with a sweeter timbre and bright, high notes.
Cornelius Meister knew how to adapt to Wagner’s third ring opera, which is usually treated as a Scherzo due to its lively fast melodies and frenzied orchestration. As with “Die Walküre,” the audience received him warmly at the curtain call and the orchestra maintained its high standards of musical rigor, precision, and expressiveness.