Magazine article Opera Canada

Forging the Ring: For a Project as Big as Siegfried, the COC Needs to Be Totally Prepared before Rehearsals Begin

Magazine article Opera Canada

Forging the Ring: For a Project as Big as Siegfried, the COC Needs to Be Totally Prepared before Rehearsals Begin

Article excerpt

IT'S 32 years since the Canadian Opera Company's last and only staging of Wagner's Siegfried, though for all the differences between how the opera played in September 1972 and how it will be in January 2005, the interval might as well be measured in light years. Back then, director Herman Geiger-Torel cut almost 20 percent of the opera's four-hour run time, but now it will be performed complete. The 1972 production photos show that designers Murray Laufer (sets) and Marie Day (costumes) fashioned a straightforwardly conventional approach in which gods and heroes looked noble, while the villains, the Nibelung dwarves, were like misshapen denizens from another world. Act I of Siegfried, according to Wagner's specifications, takes place in a forest, with a cave in the rocks. Which, with only a little artistic licence, is the way Laufer represented things.

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Not so designer Michael Levine, who, with director Francois Girard, has conceived a surreal, dream-like setting for the new staging. Far from creating a physical geography in which Siegfried forges his sword, kills his dragon, breaks the power of the gods and finds fear and love, they want to represent it all as an introspective journey of self-discovery. "We asked some very basic questions right at the start," says Levine. "'What is the forest? What is really happening when Siegfried forges the sword? What do the characters really represent?' This is Siegfried's story, it's about him discovering who he is. We came to the conclusion that we were dealing with a psychological space."

In November, just two months from the January premiere, "psychological space" is about the best way to think of their state of preparation. It's not that things are only in their early stages. Far from it. But the COC is on that theatrical cusp between conceptualization and realization that's as scary as anything the young Siegfried faces. For the most part, the production is in the creative team's collective head. It will be mid-December before any rehearsals begin, initially with 10 days of workshops Girard will hold with what he tantalizingly calls "the fire dancers and flyers." (Obviously, there's going to be spectacle in this, even if not literally as Wagner conceived it.) The singers will not arrive until later in December, and the orchestra won't fully assemble for rehearsals until the turn of the year, at about the time the set will be assembled in the Hummingbird Centre playing space. By European standards, the COC operates on a very tight schedule, which means the state of readiness in November has to be fine-tuned. By necessity, the restricted rehearsal time has to be for realizing, refining or adapting existing ideas, not developing new ones from scratch.

Conductor Richard Bradshaw, quite apart from dealing with questions relating to the new opera house (What will the programs look like?) and his administrative responsibilities as COC General Director, has a major concert in Toronto and a week-long engagement in Prague before turning his full attention to Siegfried in December. This is the first time he's conducted this opera, though it's not unfamiliar territory, since he did work on it when he was on the music staff of San Francisco Opera. Bradshaw spent a lot of time this summer re-examining the score, and now, in November, he's working on it again "in real time." What this means is that he sits at his desk and goes through the piece in his mind as if he is conducting. The closest he actually gets to making music comes if he taps a rhythm out on his desktop or checks his mental timing against a metronome. This is Bradshaw's way of making final preparations before he works with the singers and orchestra. "There are real challenges in this score," he says. "There are points in the first two acts especially--such as the Riddle Scene in the first act--where you have to have the right momentum to stop them from dragging. It's not as much about how fast you go as it is about delivery. …

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