Heil dir, Sonne!

François Girard’s Siegfried, a revival of his 2006 production, opened last night at the COC.  Despite using the same basic set concept as Atom Egoyan’s Die Walküre, Girard’s Siegfried, has a rather different look and feel.  The fragments of Valhalla and the remains of Yggdrassil are still there but they are supplemented in imaginative fashion by a corps of supers and acrobats who play a key role in shaping the scenes.  For example, in the opening scene we have Yggdrassil festooned with bodies, as if some enormous shrike were in residence.  Some of these are dummies and some aerialists who come into the drama at key points.  The flames in Siegfried’s forge are human arms.  Acrobats make a very effective Fafner in the Niedhöhle scene and the flames around Brünnhilde’s rock are human too.  Most of the characters are dressed in sort of white pyjamas which makes for a very monochromatic effect on the mostly dark stage.  The one visual incongruity is the “bear” who is present, tied to Yggdrassil, throughout Act 1.  Frankly it looks less like a bear than John Tomlinson after a night on the tiles.  Still, all in all, the production is effective without being especially revelatory.

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The production frames an ensemble performance that is consistently good to better than that across the board.  Stefan Vinke is an exceptionally good Siegfried.  He has the genuine ringing heldentenor sound, plenty of heft and he still has gas in the tank for the big duet in the last scene.  He’s also visually fairly convincing which isn’t easy in this part.  Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke’s Mime is also very fine.  There are times when he distorts, growls and whines, as he must, but he doesn’t overdo it and comes off as more lyrical than most Mimes which is, musically, a huge plus to the overall enterprise.  Alan Held is the usual solid, consistent Alan Held as Wanderer.  Chris Purves may not seem an obvious choice in a Wagner opera but his Alberich is not only finely characterised but has plenty enough heft in a lyrical sort of way.  There’s that word “lyrical” again.  Maybe it’s the house.  Perhaps one thing the Four Seasons’ acoustic gives is the ability to make Wagner more lyrical, less stentorian?  Solid work too from Philip Enns as Fafner and Meredith Arwady as Erda and a welcome return for Jacquie Woodley, another unlikely Wagnerian, as the Woodbird.

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Which leaves the lady on the rock.  We wait nearly four and a half hours for our first look at Christine Goerke and she doesn’t disappoint.  She is radiant from Heil dir, Sonne! to the last note.  Her voice is powerful with a clean tone that cuts through the orchestra without excessive vibrato.  Acting wise, she makes Wagner’s weird ode to “purity” almost convincing and he blends wonderfully with Vinke in the final duet.  That he has enough in the tank to match her is amazing.  The last scene, if as an audience member one has the stamina, is worth the price of admission and bodes really well for next season’s Götterdämmerung.

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But Siegfried was not the only hero on display last night.  There were rather a lot of them in the pit led by Johannes Debus.  This was the COC orchestra at his very considerable best  providing a suitably full and thrilling sound when needed and throttling back skilfully to not cover the singers.  Even in the those places where the singers do tend to blend into the overall sonic mix they were present as distinguishable elements.  If you get a chance to hear Debus conduct Wagner (anything really) jump at it.  He’s a bit special.  Thank goodness we have him for another five years.

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So, great music making and a very decent production.  I don’t think the latter will be talked about decades later in the way that Chéreau and Küpfer are but the performance just might be.  There are six more performances of Siegfried at the Four Seasons Centre between now and February 14th.

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Photo credits: Michael Cooper, except the second which is by Chris Hutcheson.

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