Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Vienna's Thielemann Ring: Siegfried

Stephen Gould & Linda Watson

Wiener Staatsoper, 09/11/2011

Stephen Gould | Siegfried
Linda Watson | Brünnhilde
Albert Dohmen | The Wanderer
Tomasz Koniczny | Alberich
Anna Larsson | Erda
Wolfgang Schmidt | Mime
Ain Anger | Fafner
Chen Reiss | Waldvogel

Christian Thielemann | Conductor
Sven-Eric Bechtolf | Director

The rapturous reception received by Christian Thielemann notwithstanding, this performance didn’t pan out too differently from April, and for that I can direct you to my good friend Zerbinetta’s on-the-money report.

It’s a strange tale from the Vienna Woods, but I sensed an uncanny correlation between Zerb’s quibbles and the few differences this time around. Stephen Gould’s seemingly limitless reserves of vocal energy were no less impressive than before, but there was more of a heroic ring to his upper register (and the Staatsoper has seen fit to equip him with a Nothung that doesn’t look like a banana). One of the many moments which had me smiling in disbelief was a brilliantly resonant top B flat on ‘Jetzt lock’ ich ein liebes Gesell’ – what better way to say ‘I’m not pacing myself for the final scene’. There was some contrast in timbre between those top notes and his middle register, but he made it work convincingly enough for me. Softer moments had more tenderness than before, but in a way that only added to the ‘simple Siegfried’ thing he has going on with the character; fine, but a mode which Gould threatened to get stuck in at points.

Brünnhilde veteran Linda Watson had no problems stepping in for Katarina Dalayman at something like two days notice. Top notes were a bit sharp on occasion, but not at all unpleasant the rest of the time. And while you could hear the gears shifting as she moved around her register, she always made it without exerting a distracting amount of effort. Tone and vibrato isn’t the most exciting thing going on, but lines were skilfully phrased and her voice was big enough to power above the orchestra. For an Einspringerin we could have done much worse.

Wolfgang Schmidt: you ARE Ernst Busch. But I have Eisler’s complete works on my iPod and prefer the real thing, thanks. And Sven-Eric Bechtolf: what on earth is going on with Mime’s cooking? We have an ostrich egg (cf. the Eisen/Eiern wordplay in the libretto), but to the right is that a... pickled foetus? Not Bechtolf’s fault, but the set’s similarity to a competitive cookery show on British TV only made this seem more disturbing.

Albert Dohmen wasn’t as focused as in Walküre, but marginally less lacklustre than in Rheingold. He also fluffed the breaking of the spear: the idea in this production being that Wotan falls into Erda’s pit, makes a quick switcheroo, and emerges with two broken pieces. Or in this case, a whole spear and one broken piece; a blunder which he only corrected after much fumbling. But it had me riveted, and not out of Schadenfreude: Dohmen’s horrified facial expression in those moments communicated more about the impotence of the gods than the entirety of Bechtolf’s anti-Konzept had hitherto managed.

A robust Tomasz Konieczny, portentously syllabic Ain Anger and more full-throated than usual Anna Larsson were all excellent. A tuneful and chirrupy Chen Reiss struck the right tone.

By Act III I would have happily traded the Staatsopernorchester and their extreme sloppiness for one of Austria’s provincial opera orchestras (the Bruckner Orchester Linz is an incredibly underrated ensemble). The real riddle posed in the Wanderer’s scene was to make sense of the mess coming from the pit. The end of Act I wasn’t at all together either, and disturbingly little of the Siegfried Idyll music was recognisable as such. The crowning ineptitude was however the reed pipe gag. What could possibly go wrong with the cor anglais sounding crap and the horn sounding good? Split notes at the beginning of every triplet, astonishingly.

Thielemann did get a good tutti sound in the big moments, but coming down from that felt overly ratcheted. And when it wasn’t incompetent the playing could be something approaching good, if showing little evidence of reaching beyond the notes to the things that the conductor and musicians deemed to matter more. To carp about slips under those circumstances would be to miss the point. But all I got from the pit was indifference, and so carp I will.

Image credit: Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn

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