Siegfried: Put a Ring on It
By Lukas Hoffman
With a star-studded cast and a world-class orchestra, the Lyric Opera’s performance of “Siegfried” was a hit. The third opera in Richard Wagner’s famous Ring Cycle, “Siegfried” continues a story based in German mythology. The Cycle begins with “Das Rheingold,” in which the Nibelung dwarf Alberich steals the Rheinmaidens' gold to forge into a ring that gives its wearer total control over the world. The Gods, in payment for the building of Valhalla, give the ring to the giant Fafner, beginning the twilight of the Gods. In the second opera “Die Walkure,” the hero Siegfried is conceived by the twin Walsung Siegmund and Sieglinde, and is protected by the Valkyrie Brunnhilde, leading to her imprisonment by Wotan in a ring of fire until she can be awoken by a hero who can brave the elements to find her.
“Siegfried” begins when the eponymous hero (Burkhard Fritz) has come of age, raised in the woods by the Nibelung Mime (Matthias Klink), the brother of Alberich. Siegfried begins to question Mime's motives and whether he is truly Siegfried's father, to which Mime eventually reveals he is not. Siegfried presses further and discovers that Mime possesses fragments of Siegmund's sword, Nothung. Angered that Mime cannot forge him a working sword, Siegfried chooses to rebuild Nothung himself, fulfilling the prophecy that "only the one who does not know fear" can repair the damaged sword. Worried by Siegfried's strength, Mime takes him to fight Fafner (Patrick Guetti), now in the form of a dragon. Mime briefly encounters Alberich (Samuel Youn) in the forest, and they argue over the dragon's treasures. Against the odds, Siegfried defeats Fafner, taking the ring and gold for himself. Upon learning that Mime was trying to deceive him, Siegfried kills the dwarf, ending the second act. In the end of the opera, Siegfried rescues Brunnhilde (Christine Goerke), beginning the twilight of the Gods.
The standout stars of the show were Youn and Goerke, in the roles of Alberich and Brunnhilde respectively. Youn's character had little stage time, but took complete control of his scene, displaying masterful control and volume, an apt fit for an experienced Wagnerian baritone. Goerke, who starred in last year's Walkure, returned center-stage in the third act, outshining Fritz the entire time. With a clear soprano voice and incredible projection, Goerke proved herself once again this year. On the other hand, Fritz lacked the vocal strength required for the virulent Siegfried; he was hard to hear and became second-fiddle on stage, unable to provide the voice needed for his role. In the first act, his performance was especially disappointing, although he recovered later on, showing off more of what the audience was hoping for.
The stunning visuals and comic effects brightened the opera, creating a memorable staging almost rivaling the musical performance. A modern and yet comical take on the classic staging, the late Johan Engels’ design captured the both the eye and imagination of audiences. Even in the opening of the curtain, a visual gag was played, with Fafner’s bright green hand peeking out from underneath before the start of the first act. Continuing the visual jokes, the parts to Siegfried’s forge are delivered in oversized Amazon-styled boxes labeled “Rhein-Logistik,” an accessible and popular reference that could only work with a staging like this one. Siegfried is dressed as an innocent child, a new take on the traditionally macho hero. To match, his dwelling is styled as a nursery, with Mime in a tattered dress, completing the strange costuming.
The unique sets and costumes intertwine in the role of Fafner. To create a set-piece that both overshadows Siegfried and displays the fearsome dragon, Fafner is built as an inflatable, light-up behemoth, taking up much of the stage in the process. Siegfried’s battle ends with the monster deflating, with Guetti coming out from underneath the massive puppet. In death, the dragon transforms back into his normal form, and Guetti aptly has Nothung sticking through him. With the end of the dragon, the inflatable is taken off stage, but remains the most significant visual element of the opera’s staging.
Even with its minor imperfections, “Siegfried” is a great show. Combining a masterful orchestra, a great cast of singers, and a completely unique staging, the Lyric has put together a memorable performance. It will be performed only four times this year, each of which is already sold out. For those who are interested, the opera will return in two years to the Lyric’s stage, when they perform the entire cycle. If you are an opera fan, it is an experience you will not want to miss.