Who doesn’t love those hefty Wagnerian preludes and instrumental passages that precede and link the scenes of his operas? The three that lead to the first and second and third acts of Siegfried are among his best, and they help set the mood of things to come in this SIEGFRIED, the third chapter of Wagner’s Ring, a recent release of NAXOS.
We then have to slug through three long – make that very long – acts that feature various lengthy conversations between the deformed Mime and his ward, Siegfried, between the Wanderer and Mime, between the Wanderer and Alberich (here the sonorous Werner van Mechelen), and, best of the lot in Act three, between the Wanderer and Siegfried.
And hardly a set piece is in sight save for a couple of lovely soliloquies for the Wanderer, here sung by the indispensable Matthias Goerne with a larger than life sound yet characterized with the vulnerability of a deeply humanized god about to be fallen.
During those hours we get a quick Cliff Notes review of leitmotifs to remind us of who’s who and what’s what and what has led to what at this point in Wagner’ monumental tetralogy, Der Ring des Nibelungen.
You will have to wait to hear the New Zealand tenor Simon O’Neill open up in the forging scene at the end of act one. Once he does you will hear one of the best heroic tenor voices before the public today.
As in the previous two operas of the tetralogy which I have thus far reviewed out of order, Jaap von Zweden crafts an architectural vision of this epic which he translates into a magnificent musical construct with the committed work of the remarkable Hong Long Philharmonic.
The producer-engineer, Phil Rowlands does a miraculous job of recording this live in two sessions in January of 2017.
Wagner sets yet one more hurdle before us that makes it hard to engage emotionally or at least sympathize with the male characters in the third opera of his Ring: they are all morally-compromised, deceitful, self-serving creatures. Alright, Siegfried is not a bad guy, but he is a bumbling fool.
Finally in Act three: Brunhilde, who other than the quickly-in-and-out-of-the-earth Erda (the fine mezzo-soprano Deborah Humble) is the only female voice Wagner provides to bring comfort to our ears from the excess of basses and baritones and character tenors and heroic tenors that people this opera.
Happy to trade her horse-riding, warrior saving duties for a life as a human woman enriched by love, the character of Wotan’s favorite daughter calls for one of those once-in-a-great-while voices.
Heidi Melton is the real deal.
But you will have to wait until the end of the four hour opera to get an idea of what I mean. She can spin out Ewig war ich, ewig bin ich, ewig in süss sehnender Wonne, Wagner’s sublimely beautiful melody which he elsewhere uses in the Siegfried Idyll, while husbanding her plentiful vocal resources only to then open up full throttle for the ending duet with Simon O’Neill as her partner in decibels and sensitivity.
I will listen to those final scenes again just to be blown away by Melton’s voice and O’Neill’s.
As you have by now gathered, Siegfried is not my cup of mead. But with Melton’s melting sound to bring the evening to a big ending I will happily pay the price of admission and try to stay awake through the first two thirds of this Siegfried.
Next up and, I know, out of order: Die Walküre.
Rafael de Acha