Saturday, November 5, 2011

Review of Siegfried Live in HD; Long Live the Machine?

Jay Hunter Morris

Wow! The Met broadcast of Wagner's Siegfried, which was beamed to theaters worldwide as part of the Met Live in HD Series, was the most consistently entertaining production of Siegfried I have ever seen. Bar none.

I have been critical of the Lepage production of Das Rheingold and especially Die Walküre for the simple reason that "the machine" has distracted from great singing. In this event, the technology gave us new insights into what was possible in this opera. They were insights that harmonized with the singers; harmonized in a score where characters most often confront one another, and sing alone.

The opening transition showed us the underside of nature. For every beautiful tree there are worms crawling ominously underneath it. We discovered this, once again, in the Northeast last weekend during a sudden storm that turned our trees against us and left many of us without power.

Mime (Gerhard Siegel) and Siegfried (Jay Hunter Morris), developed the first act in a setting enlivened by power. There were two small waterfalls and a stream, and the background against which the singers worked was in constant subtle motion. The water images of the first two acts countered the fire images of Act III. One wonders if the images of moving water inspired a particular kind of relaxed and fluid vocal performance. The music itself seemed to flow, free from the stagnant, ponderous segments that seem inevitable in other productions.

Siegel sang an inspired Mime. He accented many humorous strains in this dwarf, but turned evil at just the right times. Everyone was sorry to see him killed off. When asked by Fleming during an intermission interview where he gets ideas for the comic gestures of his Mime, he replied that he is given training every time he observes people on the sidewalks of NYC.

Morris has justifiably become a star by virtue of being given the chance to sing this role. He delivered. Though generally appreciated in all the reviews, I think that the grand tradition of Siegfried singers makes it harder to hear the uniqueness of the way Morris approached the part.

Siegfried is dangerous. The great singers have sung the part with ferocious simplicity, scary confidence, and monumental force. Singers like Max Lorenz, Gerhard Stolze or Lauritz Melchior defined the sound, the attitude, and the ideal. At least it was ideal for the 20th century. It is often very possible to dislike the character and what it represents. Maybe the 21st century would be wise to continue to develop other sides of Siegfried. Morris has a light voice and sang with finesse and agility. He could be powerful but was not powerful all the time. His voice had shimmer, and he worked through persuasion rather than force.

The character felt complex. Morris reacted to other singers and developed a wide variety of believable interactions. Few would have ever known he was not originally chosen for this production. Given the press spin on his newly found stardom, few also realize that Morris has paid his dues and came upon this opportunity through a rigorous preparation. Get used to this guy. He is a legitimate star.
 
The female voices in this opera emerge from sleep that symbolizes death. Patricia Bardon sang a chilling Erda, and Deborah Voigt had been asleep since last April when we saw her, Live in HD, being placed within the ring of fire. Voigt found both power and lyricism in warm colors.

Bryn Terfel impressed as the wanderer, his sound seemed to float with the calculated vageries of the delicious chords that are associated with the wanderer throughout the opera. Eric Owens never disappoints. Even though Alberich's music is limited in this opera, Owens made sure that Alberich had presence.

The fire-scene was staged by the machine in a format that looked a little like a Hibachi I had when I was in college. But the production imparted a continuous fairy-tale quality that seemed central to the intention of the music itself. The production worked in the cinema. It became the "movie" version of Siegfried for which we never dared to ask. Finally the machine has risen to the level of the singing. Long live the machine? Don't get carried away.

6 comments:

  1. I enjoyed the singing in this Siegfried tremendously. Interestingly, I liked "the machine" less in this opera than I did in Die Walküre. The thing makes me nervous: did Morris actually slip on one of the planks halfway into his journey through the fire? I find myself worrying about the singers keeping their footing, and that distracts me from the amazing voices. The relentless murkiness bothered me a bit, too. When Brünnhilde greets the sun, it looks like the middle of the night. But I found Jay Hunter Morris amazing, and I'd been waiting for years to hear Deborah Voigt sing Brünnhilde and was not disappointed. (Alexandra)

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  2. Like the scenery from nature that it was portraying during this opera, I think that the machine has its own worms!

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  3. Morris was fantastic as Siegfried. Absolutely. His characterization was wonderful; my favorite was when Brunnhilde first rejected him.

    However, what completely and utterly ruined this for me and which left a very very bitter taste in my mouth was Voigt as Brunnhilde. The very first note sounded as if she was someone's grandmother. She slipped and slided her way from note to note and with a vibrato so big, it was hard to tell which note she was aiming for and at times she seemed to be speaking Italian with so many trill Rs. The worse was all the money notes (ie, big high notes) ranged from ok to downright awful. Case in point is the last high C. She should have just whistled it because what came out of her mouth was a 1 second squeal that probably even fell short of the high A mark. I suspect the orchestra went extra fortissimo there to try to cover that up. I don't know what you guys were listening to, but to say she was "fabulous" is a downright exaggeration. Perhaps Voigt is a wonderful person; but as I do not know her, I can only judge her by her performance and it was not good at all.

    Honestly, if the MET can not find a Brunnhilde, they should have not even think about a Ring Cycle. I will NOT pay to watch the MET's Gotterdammerung and hear my favorite parts destroyed.

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  4. Jay Hunter Morris is wonderful as Siegfried. I think the unrelentless waterfall during the Nothung aria and all that flickering going on in background are distracting from the singing. It's like having something annoyingly repetitive on that just won't stop. We don't need all that stuff for the opera to keep our attention. I think Jay should always dress like Siegfried. It looks great on him!

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  5. Dear Xylotropes,

    I also noticed the missing C, but gave away her first phrase as an intentional move away from “sleepiness.” Still, in light of Brünnhilde tradition, I have very little argument. I have modified my entry as follows: “Voigt found both power and lyricism in warm colors.” We may still disagree about that, but it is closer to what I meant to say. Thanks for the reality check Xylotropes.

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  6. Excellent review, and I agree with you wholeheartedly that the Lepage staging was put to much better use in this production than in Die Walküre. As for Jay Hunter Morris, I think he did a fine job, but then I'm spoiled by being a huge fan of Max Lorenz (and spoiled myself even further by listening to Lorenz sing the part every time I was a driving for about a month in anticipation of seeing this production!) I think he needs a little more power and force in his voice, but he has plenty of time and room to grow ahead of him. He definitely shows great promise! Thanks for this nice review. I had just had surgery the day before but couldn't miss this production, although I was in and out of it due to painkillers! I'll need to see the encore to do a proper review myself, which I'm looking forward to. My review will then appear in LiveJournal's Wagnerdammerung community.

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