Oy. That was a workout! Siegfried, the third opera in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, ran for a full five hours today, and it felt like it. The first two operas, Das Rheingold and Die Walküre were action-packed and rich with personalities, so the time flew by, but Siegfried really dragged for me. Although it’s the longest Ring opera so far (and the longest in the tetralogy, I believe), it is the simplest, at least in terms of cast and action.
Siegfried, the lonely orphaned son of Siegmund and Sieglinde from Die Walküre, re-forges his father’s broken sword (Act I), uses it to kill Fafner the dragon (Act II), and then wakes the sleeping Brünnhilde to claim her as his wife (Act III). There are one or two other little interludes that advance the background story of the coming downfall of the gods, which will be the focus of the last installment, Götterdammerung (“twilight of the gods”), but that’s about it.
I think part of my dissatisfaction comes from the performance by Christian Franz in the title role. As I’ve mentioned before, I am far from being an expert or even a huge fan of opera, but I really think he was not the man for the role. His strong vibrato clashed with the many, many, rapid, clipped, consonant-rich German syllables he had to get out, with the result that the melodic line, such as it is in Wagner, was impossible to follow. Sure, he is loud, as Wagnerian heldentenors (“heroic” tenors) must be to compete with the large orchestra, but I found it a chore to listen to. Maybe it’s just me, but when the only comments the radio host makes are that it’s an extremely difficult role, I think I may not be alone in my opinion. Perhaps there simply was no one available, or no one willing, or no one alive, who can sing that role well. It’s entirely conceivable that Wagner wrote something that few mortals would be capable of pulling off.
People have said that one of the remarkable things about Wagner is that he exposed the subconscious/unconscious before Freud and Jung came along. I suspect that Siegfried in particular is the most Freudian or Jungian of the Ring operas and probably merits deeper study. This aspect was emphasized by the director who apparently put the rest of the cast in costumes that mirrored Siegfried’s to give the idea that they were all aspects of his mind.
Siegfried is certainly not like the other Ring characters. While the others have been complex and very human, Siegfried is something else. He seems to be partially asleep, clueless, blank, but driven by implacable impulses. He never knew his parents and was raised by a self-serving dwarf whom he had always hated. His greatest longings were to know who he was, and to find someone to love. He would range through the forest, calling on his hunting horn, hoping to meet a friend. He also knows no fear, and so is able to effortlessly vanquish any foe (even Wotan!) and brave the terrifying fire that surrounds his intended, Brünnhilde.
But when he finally wakes his bride-to-be, well, he freaks out! When his greatest wish is finally fulfilled, he nearly runs away in terror. He has never seen a woman, and doesn’t really know what she is. She, once a warlike and immortal Valkyrie, is also terrified, and in her half-awake, confused state is afraid of life as a mortal and of harming Siegfried with her (former) godly powers. However they both overcome their fears and resolve to meet life’s perils, united, with laughter and love.
I suspect that this is an opera that must be seen rather than just heard. That’s certainly what Wagner intended, and perhaps this opera depends on visual effect more than the others. I’m certainly willing to give it another chance… with a different cast. A little study of Freud and Jung probably wouldn’t hurt either.
The last opera in this historic Ring Cycle is Götterdammerung, which airs Sunday afternoon at 1pm in most time zones. After that it will be back to our regularly scheduled programming here at Bookworm. Thanks to the numerous, silent non-opera fans out there for bearing with me. 😉