Magazine article The Spectator

New Order

Magazine article The Spectator

New Order

Article excerpt

Siegfried; Gotterdammerung Royal Opera

Siegfried is in some ways the most complex of the Ring dramas, showing us alternately, and then simultaneously, the old order recognising or/and resisting its need of replacement, and the new order beginning to emerge, but with no consciousness of what its purpose is -- for Wagner much of the allure of Siegfried is his total lack of self-awareness. The old order, in the figures of the Wanderer/Wotan, Alberich, Fafner and Mime, is awarded music that makes one sorely regret its passing; we are familiar with it from the previous two dramas, but in Siegfried this music undergoes new and fascinating transformations and combinations, as Wagner's art of leading motifs becomes ever more sophisticated and subtle. By contrast, though not a stark contrast, the new order, Siegfried and the ex-goddess Brünnhilde, is portrayed in a way that is less likely to win our sympathy, certainly dramatically and up to a point musically, and has the added disadvantage that even by Wagnerian standards its music is extraordinarily difficult to sing.

As Ring veterans will know all too well, and Ring neophytes will soon discover, at any given time there are even fewer plausible Siegfrieds around than Wotans or Brünnhildes, and at present the situation is horribly acute. One accepts that one will be seeing a performer of some maturity, but hopes that that will be compensated for by a secure grasp of the surprising complexities of the role and the stamina to carry it through. John Treleaven, Siegfried in the Royal Opera Ring since its inception, clearly puts everything he's got into enacting the role, so it is disagreeable to have to insist that he doesn't begin to do it justice. Now 57, his voice has contracted, dried out and can encompass neither the swagger nor the frequent warm lyricism the part demands, let alone its high notes. He isn't moving when he asks about and ponders on his parentage, he hasn't the heft for forging or fighting, and his presence, though amiable, has nothing in it of the romantic or the heroic.

In the second cycle at Covent Garden the void at the centre of Siegfried was compensated for by fine performances from everyone else, including the unscheduled Brünnhilde of Irene Theorin, second replacement for the ailing Lisa Gasteen.

Theorin is young, slight, but with a sufficiently large voice, and the confidence and understanding of the extreme complexities of this stretch of the Ring, the Siegfried duet in which the potential lovers negotiate the terms on which they will give themselves to one another, an understanding which her partner lacked and which Pappano, conducting, seemed to be at a loss to cope with -- Wagner does present a bewildering variety of musical material, and leaves it to the performers to take many decisions about just how it should be welded together, above all to the conductor. Only Furtwängler and Knappertsbusch have completely and convincingly worked out the answers, in my listening experience. Quite a few others do at least show signs of promise. But Pappano:

when in doubt he indulges the brass, so the lovely sight of six harpists playing in the stage box was unmatched by a single plink from them, for the sublime awakening; the long passages of Brünnhilde's doubts about relinquishing her divine status had no help or illumination from the orchestra, and only the noisy last minutes provided any kind of exaltation, and then the crudest.

John Tomlinson, completing his heroic account of Wotan, had had to act out the great prelude to Act III -- which of course shouldn't be acted out at all -- by reeling on a rotating and tossing platform, while throwing books off it like a child in a tantrum. …

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