Chéreau’s Siegfried is even less obviously “industrial” than his Die Walküre. There’s a forge of course but there rather has to be. Other than that we get workshop, forest and lair pretty much as one might imagine until, of course, we end up back at the ruin where Brünnhilde waits. Brian Large injects lots of smoke at every opportunity.
Act 1 opens with a rather realistic bear scene. Everything is very dark though. It’s our introduction to our Siegfried, Manfred Jung. He’s not particularly imposing though not bad looking in a pocket Aryan sort of way. The trouble is his voice is utterly unheroic. It’s dry and utterly devoid of money notes. He’s also pretty wooden as an actor. Heinz Zednick’s Mime, by contrast, is sharply characterised and well acted in a Mimeish way. His singing is not beautiful but it’s not supposed to be. Listening to the two of them together is a bit painful. Indeed, the appearance of Donald McIntyre’s Wanderer comes as something of a relief, even if the voice, as in the two previous operas, is dry and a bit choppy.
Act 2 opens with the Wanderer and Alberich (Hermann Becht) in a very foresty but dark forest in identical hats. They are probably awarded for losing the Ring though not, apparently, posthumously as fafner doesn’t get one. Becht gives us the best singing so far. The Siegfried and fafner scene is utterly lame. There’s a toy dragon on a cart wheeled around by stagehands that looks like it escaped from a Chinese New Year’s party. Siegfried pantomimes around unconvincingly and then stabs the dragon in a particularly unemphatic way. Fritz Hübner sings his death scene, transformed back to giant, rather well. Did I mention the smoke? The woodbird is found in a cage up a tree. She’s sung by Norma Sharp. It’s not a high point musically.
Erda rises, inevitably, amid much smoke. She’s portrayed as a sort of animated bundle of laundry from which a woman eventually emerges. She (Ortrun Wenkel) sings well enough. The confrontation between Siegfried and the Wanderer is again a bit clownish and leads to the Valkyrie rock which is, of course, shrouded in smoke. Siegfried wakes his bride and Gwyneth Jones gives us a very decent Heil dir Sonne! Then it all goes a bit awry. The duet should be ecstatic and really needs to be a blending of the two singers and the orchestra. This simply doesn’t happen. Jung’s lack of ringing high notes coupled with Boulez’ breakneck tempo and unromantic approach fatally undermine the music. It may even be made worse by Jones’ rather bright tone which just doesn’t blend at all with Jung.
Technically we are in the same place as with the previous two installments; good sound, not so good picture, not helped by low lighting levels. I’m also beginning to think that much of what has been written about this production in DVD reviews was written by people who had seen the production in Bayreuth because much of what I’ve read about I can’t see on the DVDs. I’ll expand on that point after Gõtterdämmerung.