Lyric Opera of Chicago 2018-19 Review: Siegfried

Wagner’s Music Resplendent in Pountney’s Crowd-Pleasing Production

By Santosh Venkataraman

“Siegfried” may be the most underappreciated among the operas of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle. In many ways, it advances the plot minimally compared to the others and has the feature of being musically distinct within itself because Wagner composed its third and final act 12 years after the first two.

Yet crucially, it serves to unite the love duo of the title character and Brünnhilde.

Lyric Opera of Chicago debuted director David Pountney’s version of “Siegfried” on Saturday night after the first two installments were presented over the previous two seasons. The result was a rendering that was more a mixed bag as opposed to a grandiose affair, though it was punctuated by a sensational finale between Christine Goerke’s Brünnhilde and Burkhard Fritz’s Siegfried as lovers together at last.

The Colorful View of A  Child

Pountney’s major concept within this “Siegfried” is the development of the title character from child to man. Shielded from the world by the deceitful dwarf Mime, Siegfried has endured what amounts to a horrific childhood with no mother or father; contempt for the evil Mime is his one true emotion as a child.

The first act begins with basic colors easily translatable to childhood. There’s a huge wall with crayon drawings of the dragon Fafner and a crib that looks more like a prison cell with a giant easel next to it. It is vibrant and grotesque all at the same time and may have been the best set of the staging outside of when the gigantic Fafner is slain.

The German tenor Fritz made his American operatic debut in the role of Siegfried. His instrument was probably not a perfect fit for the cavernous Civic Opera House as it was difficult to hear him in the early stages. Yet his work in Act One was steady and he grew in stature by the end of it when he went about forging the sword Nothung.

This part of the opera included one of several crowd-pleasing touches with packing boxes stating “Rhein Logistik” or “Rhine Logistics” similar to deliveries. It kept with the theme of making this Ring cycle more about entertainment than about attempting to saying something profound about the work.

The Tenor Who Stole the Show

Among the male voices, the German tenor Matthias Klink mesmerized the audience as Mime. Klink was named Singer of the Year by German magazine Opernwelt in 2017 and his razor-sharp, nefarious delivery was an excellent complement to Fritz’s sincerer one. His scenes in which he exchanges riddles with bass-baritone Eric Owens as The Wanderer in Act One and the interplay before he is killed by Fritz’s Siegfried to close the second act were among the most dramatically rewarding of the night.

Owens’ Wotan was one of the highlights of last season’s “Die Walküre” and he brought a similar dramatic presence to the proceedings. He lorded over Mime when the dwarf failed to solve his final riddle in the first act and then cut a meeker figure once Siegfried destroyed his sword en route to the hero’s union with Brünnhilde.

Quality was abundant throughout the cast. Bass-baritone Samuel Youn was sturdy in his role as Mime’s brother, Alberich. Mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller brought warmth and grace in her Lyric debut as an Erda who offers no respite to Wotan’s woes.

A pair of young Ryan Opera singers starred in their smaller parts; bass Patrick Guetti fashioned an imposing Fafner as part of a visually stunning large red dragon that Siegfried defeated while Diana Newman’s luscious soprano sound brought to life the forest bird that was cleverly placed atop the staging. Expect big things on the horizon for Guetti and Newman.

Spectacular Climax

Right upon her awakening and her initial cry of “Heil dir, Sonne! Heil dir, Licht!” did Goerke transform the proceedings into possessing an even greater intensity and emotional impact. The star soprano commanded the opera house with a powerful, gleaming tone.

Goerke was transcendent with a combination of ease and true Wagnerian heft while also lifting Fritz to new heights he had no choice but to reach alongside such a glorious, artistic display. The duo in tandem with the more mature Wagner’s third-act music produced an unforgettable end to a powerhouse of a performance.

Played For Laughs

The superb Lyric Opera Orchestra under the baton of Sir Andrew Davis did more than complement the singers in extricating the true genius of Wagner’s music. Davis and the orchestra were faithful to the composer, with a memorable Siegfried Horn Call in Act Two and a wondrous tour de force effort throughout a dramatic Act Three.

The sets, conceived by the late Johan Engels with Robert Innes Hopkins currently in charge, seemed a bit less inspirational in Acts Two and Three. The natural forest setting in Act Two felt sparse with mimes carrying leaf-shaped objects, although it worked well when giving way for Fafner to appear.

Brünnhilde’s fire pit was similarly pedestrian in Act Three while Erda’s appearance was majestic with a dress covering the stage. The finale featured cube-like striped rooms on opposite ends of the stage with balloons that added to the childlike motif but felt somewhat inappropriate for a finish full of high drama.

Conceptually, this “Siegfried” can best be summed up in one example; there is always a laugh when Siegfried exclaims “Das ist kein Mann!” upon seeing the face of Brünnhilde. Yet as comedic as that line may seem to be, it’s actually an indication of how sheltered Siegfried has been in childhood and a moment that can be more poignant.

On this night, the laughs for it may have been more fervent than usual given the tone of this production.


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