The Ring rolls on
Four Seasons Centre
09/15/2006 - and 22 and 29 September
Richard Wagner: Siegfried
Christan Franz (Siegfried), Robert Künzli (Mime), Peteris Eglitis (The Wanderer), Richard Paul Fink (Alberich), Phillip Ens (Fafner), Laura Whalen (Forest Bird), Mette Ejsing (Erda), Susan Bullock (Brünnhilde), George Molnar (The Bear)
Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Richard Bradshaw (Conductor)
François Girard (Director), Michael Levine (Production Designer), David Finn (Lighting Designer), Donna Feore (Choreographer)
The first act of the Girard/Levine Siegfried opens an a dark stage with a tree trunk in the centre, upon which sits a pyjama-clad man, who turns out to be Siegfried himself (Christian Franz). Funnelling up from the top of his head and widening gradually to the full width of the stage is an open structure containing much of the detritus that littered the stage floor in Die Walküre - portions of the Valhalla model, blackened girders, shroud-wrapped corpses - and human figures. Some of these are mannequins while others are dancers who become animated during those stretches of narration when past events are recounted, such as the death of Siegfried's mother. Their movements however are restricted due to their being suspended amidst the myriad design elements. Mime (Robert Künzli) makes his arrival by being lowered down through this structure. This seems to indicate that everything is happening in Siegfried's head, and he remains on the stump during the Mime-Wanderer exchange. Peteris Eglitis sounded still fatigued from his exertions of two days previous, giving his character a defeated air from the very start of the performance. All three singers had to battle orchestral volume during this act, with Eglitis's voice disappearing most.
Everyone is in white pyjamas, even the bear (George Molnar) who is on stage throughout the act, tethered to the stump as a sort of guard-bear. Just prior to forging the sword Siegmund and the bear embrace. The stage picture is rendered in black and white, with occasional flashes of red. At stage left is the glowing pit in which Mime is confined for most of the act, much like a character in a Samuel Beckett play. Künzli gives us the complete Mime, but he probably could have imparted more variety into the role had he not been so constricted for such a long period. Christian Franz's timbre does not have the baritonal tone of so many heldentenors and thus the two singers have quite similar voices, both with a "pinging" quality. More vocal contrast would have been welcome in their lengthy dialogues. For the forging of the sword flames in the form of red-lit human arms and hands rise out of the fire pit, an attractive device whose poetic gentleness fails to match the boisterousness of the music. Siegfried makes vague gestures above the "flames", hands them the sword fragments and they obligingly hand back the completed Nothung.
In Act II, the scenery has been rotated ninety degrees and the audience views the funnell structure as if from the top. The stump (and Siegfried) are no longer on the stage floor but protruding from the rear wall of the stage. This becomes the entrance to the lair of Fafner, expressively voiced offstage by Phillip Ens. When the time comes for the dragon's appearance, six of the dancers (with the assistance of their aerial cables) form a human pyramid which Siegmund cuts apart with his sword. They very slowly tumble to the floor in an effective Cirque du Soleil moment while Fafner voices his dying lines. The program notes "Flying by Foy" whose talents were also used for an aerial Forest Bird, portrayed by a dancer while Laura Whalen (very beautifully) sang the role. Richard Paul Fink once again gave us a strongly expressed Alberich, almost going over the top in his exultation at Mime's demise.
In Act III to describe the stage as "dark" is an understatement. Impenetrable gloom surrounds a circle of lumpy white objects which turn out to be clouds as Siegfried ascends through them as he follows the flying wood bird toward the promised sleeping woman on the mountain top. Here is where Wotan and Erda (the warm-voiced Mette Ejsing) have their final meeting, and where Siegfried shatters Wotan's spear with the sword that happens to be lying handily on the stage. The white objects turn out to be (yet again) pyjama-clad people being used as scenery. They stand, form a circle, and in a red light wave their arms in the air, thus becoming the fire guarding Brünnhilde. Once this task is completed, however, the director doesn't seem to know what to do with them. They end up looking like a naval honour guard, standing in a row behind the two protagonists, then in VERY slow motion gradually fading into the stage's black depths. This scene provides one of opera's greatest staging challenges as two charcters destined to fall in love take such a very long time going about it. It is often remarked that a tired-sounding tenor has to keep up with a fresh-voiced soprano, but Christian Franz seems to have the rare stamina for his role. In their final duet they were well matched and gave us an exciting conclusion to the work.