NSO’s Siegfried

featuring Taiwan’s National Symphony Orchestra under Shao-Chia Lü; Carlus Padrissa, stage director, La Fura dels Baus, a co-production of Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia and Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, and many many more people, some listed below.

I got too little sleep for a week and then felt like I was getting sick, but I had time to get a little nap on the way to the opera, and then slept the rest of the weekend afterward.

Or that’s my excuse for why I haven’t posted a review of the opera I saw on Friday evening, our very own NSO’s third installment of Wagner’s Ring cycle. They began in 2016 with Das Rheingold, and will finish next year with Götterdämmerung.

How do you go about reviewing an opera that it seems like everyone in the world but you has seen? I watched Boulez’s Jahrhundertring on YouTube (actually haven’t finished with Götterdämmerung yet), but have never seen any other live production but the one we got this week from La Fura dels Baus and the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia. For some more information about the specific production, you can visit this article on the La Fura website, or this one, reviewing the entire original production with Mehta.

Some people take issue with how modern and even sort of sci-fi this production is, but to me, it’s a testament to the quality of the original work that it can be adapted in such a wildly different way and still be such a compelling, complete narrative. The second link above quotes someone, I’m guessing La Fura, describing this production as “going back to the spirit of Wagner, to the original mysticism and symbolism.”

I don’t mind it a bit, but this isn’t really a review of that specific production, which you can buy a DVD of, or see in your local library, or whatever, nor is it a review of the opera itself, which is widely known to be one of the greatest opera things ever penned.

So then what do I talk about?

Well, the cast was superb. Like, truly superb. If you know the opera, you know that we don’t get a female presence on stage until part of the way through Act II, so the menfolk run the show for a while. Here are a few of the main names:

  • Siegfried – Vincent Wolfsteiner: obviously star of the show, not just because he’s the titular character, but because Wolfsteiner just did an incredible job. He captured a youthfulness and naïveté to the character, which obviously must be in balance with his heroism and courage. Bravo.
  • Mime – Rodell Rosel: poor Mime, but not really. He’s such a good victim until you realize what he’s plotting, and Rosel was fantastic on both sides of that coin.
  • Der Wanderer/Wotan – Jukka Rasilainen: the only member of the cast who has been with us (as the same character) throughout all three operas so far. (See Silvestrelli below). He’s just spectacular as Wotan, is very commanding, sings outstandingly… I hope he finishes out our cycle next year. He’s amazing.
  • Alberich – Nathan Berg: Alberich is the man who started it all, and he doesn’t have a huge role in this opera, but it is a key one. Would like to see Berg back next year as well.
  • Fafner – Andrea Silvestrelli: Terrifying. Silvestrelli has been here every year, but he was Hunding last year, and Fafner again in Das Rheingold. Imagine mixing the characters of Bane from Christopher Nolan’s Batman with Stephen King’s Pennywise. That’s what Silvestrelli looked like, sort of, at least the imposing nature he presented. Even from my seat I wanted to cower at him and his stature and voice, both of which are enormous.
  • Erda -Juliana Jia-jen Chang: I gasped when Shih I-chiao emerged in Das Rheingold as Erda, and the costume was thankfully the same, an almost silly but still very regal-looking headdress. Chang played her part well, stoic solemn, but weighty.
  • Brünnhilde – Susan Bullock: Wish we’d had this Brünnhilde last year. With only three female characters, the other two really with cameos, Brünnhilde shines in this installment, and Susan Bullock made it look like a cakewalk. Granted, it’s probably not as demanding as Die Walküre, but she was magnificent. Hope she’s our Brünnhilde for Götterdämmerung. We shall see.
  • Waldvogel – Lin Meng-chun: poor girl looked like she was going skydiving. I’d have loved for her to have a more dramatic, less crash-test looking get-up, but she sang beautifully.

Well I guess that’s basically all of them, except for all the stage performers and dancers and acrobats and designers and on and on and on that make a production of this scale and complexity what it is. (We thankfully didn’t have any screens fritz out like we did last year, the ones that make up the background that moves (not just on screen, but the screens themselves). It’s an involved production, but when done right, as it was done with us, it not just suspends but shatters disbelief.

Wagner’s masterful handling of the really potentially very unwieldy story, as large as it is (I cannot imagine but would love to experience these four works back-to-back in four nights), means that even if you walked in entirely ignorant of the previous works, you’d at least have enough backstory to put the pieces together and not be entirely lost. Again, that’s a commentary about the work itself, but it’s also kind of… an invitation/reminder that opera, even something as epic as this cycle, is not inaccessible.

And for a word on the orchestra. Maybe it’s the opera house, the special occasion of making the special trip down to a venue I only rarely visit, the excitement of the annual Wagner installment (what’ll we have in 2020?!), but the orchestra just sounded wonderful. I would love to know these operas well enough to be able to comment on matters of interpretation, even as simple as tempo, but alas I cannot. Our NSO sounded wonderful, and that impressive horn business of Siegfried’s theme was gosh darn near flawless. I do always feel like Maestro Lü is really at home with opera.

I fear that after Götterdämmerung, this annual autumnal opera will cease to be a thing (what other opera cycle will they begin? Licht?), but I do so hope I get to visit that opera house regularly, even if ‘regularly’ only means ‘once a year.’ See you soon, NSO, and thank you again. Look forward to next year.

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