In the San Francisco version of Francisca Zambello’s “Siegfried” from 2018, we get a touching side of the developing image that Wagner depicts throughout the entire ring cycle.
Here is the future hero Siegfried, son of the marriage between Siegmund and Sieglinde, deep in his forest house, with his parents’ surrogate mother Mime. The encounter we experience at the beginning is full of lures and irritations, brief attempts to loosen the pique, and persistent demands from each individual to fulfill their own wish. Siegfried to find out who his parents were and what happened to them, and Mime to insult Siegfried, to get him the ring and gain the power to rule the world.
After their characters have been determined in scene 1, the three acts unfold after the search for each character and the resulting counter-reactions – encounter with Alberich, the machine monster, the forest bird, the wanderer and finally Brunnhilde. It’s a rich tapestry filled with exciting music and contrasting moods and challenging psychological moments.
The climax of the first act is Siegfried’s forge, the lifting of the hammer and the “hey te ho” of his vocal reaction, the swinging of the first and the other, creating a tandem movement of sun and moon. the darkness and the light, the love and the hatred of the people in their world. Siegfried dismantles the pieces of his father’s sword Noting. The sword will split the anvil if it succeeds. Each of the couples, Mime and Siegfried, Alberich and Wotan, the Waldvogel and Siegfried, duets until everything in the love exercise in Brünnhilde’s union with Siegfried is dissolved. And what a highlight it is.
The American hero tenor Daniel Brenna engaged us with extraordinary energy, liveliness and singing technique. Here Siegfried was sparkling, convincing, powerful. Are you trying to get that out of our heads? Unlikely. Are you trying not to like him in the end, boor, bully, wild kid? We can not. He’s too open. Too honest. Too direct. Even his criticism of mime fits the style.
Yes, in human terms, Siegfried is ungrateful for what Mime has given him. Tenor David Cangelosis Mime tells him a lot about it and at full throttle. But recognize it that way, Brennas Siegfried is not prepared to replace his aversion to his surrogate father and mother with invented “human”, ie social, views. He is less than grateful for Mime’s rescue when Sieglinde gave birth to him in the forest and dies; he doesn’t like him and doesn’t want to say anything else. He even brings a lively bear with him, a better companion, he says, than mime. So Siegfried mocks Mime and challenges his ability to forge Notung, his father’s sword. He dares. He’s an idiot, right? A blunt, open man who is not afraid to do what he wants and is proud of it.
It’s refreshing in the theater, especially with the Waldvogel, Fafner and finally Brünnhilde. Indeed, the contrast between conventional human values and what Siegfried expresses underscores Wagner’s goal of contrasting them with another crowd that is partly natural and unbridled and universal. It’s not an easy thing. When Brünnhilde wakes up and discovers this, she shows uncertainty and doubt. Who can blame her? She has been sleeping for 20 years and used to be a warrior goddess. Now she is on the human playing field. How should and can it act?
Iréne Theorin, a well-known Swedish dramatic soprano, guided us through the process with extraordinary skill, bringing a lot of intensity, passion, dramatic flair and beauty to the role. In a few moments her voice became a bit shrill, but most of the time she sang with brilliant beauty and extraordinary enthusiasm. Her awakening on her rock was carried out with moving details, realistic and poignant. Her extraordinary smile alone was gratifying. She greeted Brennas Siegfried with joy and excited surprise. She loves him, she says, but he has to step back. Nor will she allow him to rule her with his passion. He is beaten, but that confuses him.
What Wagner is looking for here is to show us the perfect connection between student and teacher. No master / slave representation, like many modern love portraits are. The budding lovers have to figure out how to get along with each other, but it’s Brünnhilde who runs the show. Theorin’s vocal range went well with this dramatic force. Big, courageous and beautiful, she is a great lover of Siegfried and the complicated and beautiful music causes us to view love in the human realm differently from what conventional human love might express. A new standard of behavior is underway. While we want to directly express our passion for what we feel conditioned to do, we are not simply free to do so.
As the opera unfolds, we see that “anything goes” is not the point. It’s about dwell in the midst of strong emotions and still find ways to behave in the way that suits us. Compare, for example, Fricka and Wotan. While Fricka may be the guardian of marriage, it isn’t these laws that relate to the Wagnerian details in opera. Each character has to clarify it for himself and together. Daniel Brenna portrayed an affecting hero who must learn to love without rape while still passionate, who longs but without greed or lust, and he learns this while leaning into Brünnhilde’s chest. It’s a moving lesson.
This is also the case with the machine monster that Fafner, Raymond Aceto, has become. That is, until Siegfried kills him and gets to the point (the innards of the wire that make the machine work). But in contrast to other human views, he feels sympathy and sadness for Fafner. It’s one of the early connections Siegfried actually makes when he’s foregone the need to be nice with Mime. For example, when he gives Mime a drink of his Pepsi Cola and later rejects Mime’s request for human gratitude – that too is new.
Brennas Siegfried moved nimbly and actively up and down the stage, in and around the forest, over and under the rocks / caves, and always failed to show us the same in his tenor sound. His voice carried the whole development without interruption, not only full of sharpness and almost sweet naivete, but also amazing perseverance. With the forest bird, when he plays clown-like off-key music against the exquisite coloratura lyrics by Stacey Tappan, we have a rare moment of lightness and almost humor. The welcome relief of the first female voice when the forest bird comes to help Siegfried and Tappan, sang with beauty and virtuosity; In addition, the two who throw Siegfried’s beautiful turquoise-colored scarf, a trace of Sieglinde, his mother, are a charming and touching staging. Then also with Brünnhilde. Though strong and abundant, it carries the message of its novelty and is not lacking in vulnerability. How he manages to convey enthusiasm without lust is extraordinary.
David Cangelosi’s mime was practiced and flexible; sometimes so smooth, the feeling stops and we get art alone. He does somersaults, he cycles, he moans and sulks, he reaches out and invents, so that although we “feel” for his plight – the underrated “parents” – only think that we are doing it. His voice was conveyed, but disappointed with the conviction. The baritone Falk Struckmann played Alberich, Mime’s brother. He came through with more expression, complete with his homeless clothes, goggles, and shopping cart. It conveyed the confusion and hesitation of someone who has a goal but does not remain steadfast to achieve it once an obstacle appears.
Bass baritone Greer Grimsley’s Wotan made a difference here, stabilizing and convincing. He entered as a wanderer and convinced us with commanding and demanding authority. His voice was sonorous and full, deep and determined. We greeted him when he showed up, knowing he was going to pull frayed ends together, which he did by Mime first correctly answering the questions asked by Mime with the motives of Giants, Spear, Valhalla and again asking questions to Mime. Another competition where Mime does worse.
With Erda, Wotan’s request reflects his earlier dark, demanding self, which is only alluded to in this opera. Contralto Ronnita Miller’s Erda brought the power of the earth to her voice as she tried to gain the upper hand, remarkable in her depth and richness within her reach. She certainly managed to get hold of Wotan, although he managed to get his way again.
Finally he fights against Siegfried, who destroys Wotan’s spear and can then look for Brünnhilde.
Tie everything together
Sir Donald Runnicles brought the “story” to life in every bar of the orchestra. “Siegfried” was considered by some critics to be one of the “easier” operas of the Ring, but the music is still wonderful. From the top of the sound area to the bottom, from the flute to the bass, we enjoy its beauty. Nine horns, two harps, although Wagner originally wanted several more, an abundance of strings and more, we venture into a new landscape. Is the sound new? What about “Die Meistersinger” and “Tristan und Isolde”, which were composed between the first and the last ring operas? More leitmotifs are interwoven, more patterns of the whole can be heard. Runnicles have described this in great detail and some orchestra members manage to carry through the entire narrative from the opening notes of “Das Rheingold” until the end of Götterdämmerung. Some have even said they can follow the ring with no text or song and still know what’s going on with ease. This could be the case here. The orchestra was alive and full of stories; We never just had to follow the words.
However, technical miracles consistently delight us when we seek and express history. Hissing steam, fire, underlit floors, sparks from the forge, projections of forest and clouds are in abundance. The original versions by Jan Hartley, reassembled by S.Katy Tucker, make for a dazzling display and immediately highlight the theme of technology versus nature in Zambello’s American Ring, but also just for themselves. It reminds us how wonderful our first circus was – full of wonders we don’t even dare to understand. Too much wonder. The imaginative lighting emphasizes everything.
One more thing: When Brünnhilde begins to see herself in a new way, for example without weapons, without god-like powers, it is like through Siegfried’s eyes. This catapults them to develop in the direction that Wagner is striving for – the humanity that they will assume in “Die Götterdämerung”. And we can’t wait.