Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Chemnitz Ring - Part Two

Here is the second installment of Sam H. Shirakawa's review of the Chemnitz Ring. Today we hear about Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, as well as about a performance of Tristan und Isolde Sam also attended in Chemnitz:

Siegfried
19 November

Superior voices and sufficient rehearsal time not withstanding - and there was plenty of both in evidence in Chemnitz - Siegfried simply has too many men yelling at each other for far too long. The sheer volume of story-telling can also become tiring. But the 8th Chemnitz cycle had some bodacious barking between Heikki Siukola making his local debut in the eponymous role and Jürgen Mutze as Mime. At six-foot plus, Siukola towered over the diminutive Mutze and made him look like a real dwarf. Mutze is also an accomplished gymnast, darting and rolling around the stage like a hyperactive caterpillar.


Jürgen Mutze as Mime
Jürgen Mutze as Mime
Photo © Dieter Wuschanski


Over the past 20 years, Siukola has appeared rarely in the United States, even though he made a sensational impression in a concert version of Tristan at Carnegie Hall several years ago. Despite performing Tristan, Tannhäuser and Siegfried steadily all these years, his heldentenor remains well rounded at the bottom, strong in the middle, and clarion at the top. But he also has failed to overcome a distressing habit of singing under the note - not quite flat, but hardly on the button. His glory lies in the upper register, trumpeting out that soulful cry that Caruso once called the „sound of a wounded beast." Siukola’s Siegfried had few subtleties, but when he was focused and sang on pitch, he was simply thrilling.

Hans-Peter Scheiddeger again appeared to be having some vocal difficulties as Wotan/Wanderer, but he managed to conserve his resources for the decisive encounters with Erda and Siegfried. Susan Marie Pierson proved to be more satisfactory than exhilarating in her awakening as the human Brünnhilde, negotiating rather than commanding the music above the staff.

For some reason, Jürgen Freier as Alberich lost his hair somewhere between his malevolent departure in Rheingold and his reappearance in the second act of Siegfried, but the loss hardly trimmed his force as the nasty Nibelung. Jana Büchner, Monika Straube and James Moellenhoff were respectively strong as the Woodbird, Erda and Fafner.

Jürgen Freier as Alberich & Hans-Peter Scheidegger as Der Wanderer
Jürgen Freier as Alberich & Hans-Peter Scheidegger as Der Wanderer
Photo © Dieter Wuschanski


Time and again, Wolfgang Bellach’s sets emphasized the fantastical story-book elements of the story, spinning and sliding to yield furnaces, forests, and a snake-like dragon, complete with a full set of solid gold choppers.

Götterdämmerung
21 November

Goetterdaemmerung Ensemble
Götterdämmerung Ensemble
Photo © Dieter Wuschanski


Despite a funeral pyre with a lot of smoke, Michael Heinicke’s apocalyptic finale to the Ring had no visible fire. Never mind -- some of the vocal pyrotechnics were spectacular. Susan Marie Pierson became a confident, often incandescent Brünnhilde. She was at her best in taking the oath in the second act. Neither Nancy Gibson as Gutrune nor Dietrich Greve as Gunther showed any sign of weariness following a strenuous evening as Martha and Johannes less than 24 hours earlier in Kienzl’s Evangelimann. They were a handsomely sounding pair and even looked like siblings. Donna Morein had a busy evening, changing costumes from the Second Norn in the prologue to Waltraute in the first act to a Rhine maiden at the beginning of act three. Heiki Siukola looked lost on stage at times and missed several cues. His tendency to sing under the note marred an otherwise excellent performance. But he was especially moving in Siegfried’s death scene.

Jürgen Freier as Alberich
Jürgen Freier as Alberich
Photo © Dieter Wuschanski


Jürgen Freier was delectably spiteful as Alberich, appearing to have the final say in Heineke’s ultimately pejoristic view of the Ring - marching off with Brünnhilde’s spear, after the flood waters of the Rhine devour Valhalla. The theater’s superb chorus made an all-too brief appearance - barely enough to show the capabilities it displayed several years ago in an impressive production of Meistersinger.

Tristan und Isolde
17 November

If Bette Davis had become an opera singer instead of a screen legend, how would she have interpreted Isolde? Ask Evelyn Herlitzius. An accident of nature gave this ascending Bayreuth star those large expressive eyes and that broad rounded forehead. If her angular gestures, caged animal stride and those sharp turns to reveal her profile to best advantage have been rehearsed by Michael Heinicke for his striking production, they certainly worked. Hers was a smoky, penetrating Isolde, puncturing the mark unerringly with wounding recriminations, unalterably obsessed in hate and love. Her strong suit as an actress is rage; her narrative was more effective than her "Mild und leise".

Evelyn Herlitzius as Isolde & Donna Morein as Brangäne
Evelyn Herlitzius as Isolde and Donna Morein as Brangaene
Photo © Dieter Wuschanski


Her Tristan at this we-must sing-every-bleeding-note performance (even at "provincial" houses these days, un-abridged is de rigeur) was the veteran American tenor Ronald Hamilton. Why he has not won wider recognition is also one of the mysteries of contemporary opera politics. Hamilton has been around since the 1970s, and he has kept his ample voice in good shape. Unlike a number of younger Wagner tenors making the rounds these days, Hamilton has a pleasing dark timbre that remains evenly distributed from register to register. Despite occasional lapses in diction, he articulates the text clearly without resorting to lip contortion. His Tristan was somewhat Suthaus-driven and satisfyingly so. His third-act fever scene was especially moving.

Ronald Hamilton as Tristan & Evelyn Herlitzius as Isolde
Ronald Hamilton as Tristan & Evelyn Herlitzius as Isolde
Photo © Dieter Wuschanski


Herlitzius and Hamilton had consistently reliable companions. Donna Morein’s Brangaene revealed a pragmatic companion, who knows how to mix an effective cocktail. She was at her best in reasoning with her mistress in the first act. Jürgen Freier transformed Kurvenal into a coolly protective butler.

Playing two cuckolds within a week can be stressful for any husband, but Yue Liu appeared comfortable dealing with sexual betrayal. Given a choice between performing Hunding or King Mark, Liu should probably opt for Mark. The lyric qualities in his bass are better tailored for expressing the aging monarch’s self-pity without sacrificing the role’s dignity.

Following his short stint as the Steersman, Andre Riemer made a welcome reappearance as the shepherd in the last act. His bright lyric tenor sounds promising.

Heinicke’s production is no metaphysical treatise. The action takes place in various parts of King Mark’s estate, the voyage of the first act occurring as a kind of flashback-prologue. The settings, shrewdly arranged on the hydraulic turntable, encase a drama clearly defined by plush 19th-century furniture. Mathilde Wesendonk would certainly have felt at home in such surroundings…

Ronald Hamilton as Tristan & Evelyn Herlitzius as Isolde
Ronald Hamilton as Tristan & Evelyn Herlitzius as Isolde
Photo © Dieter Wuschanski




Stop by tomorrow when Sam takes a vacation (from Wagner, that is).

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