Though it’s not until the fourth hour in the last scene of this Wagner Ring Cycle hero’s tale, we are bathed in passion-filled duets sung by Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde and Burkhard Fritz as our hero, the title character Siegfried. She has just been awakened from a forced slumber by his kiss, and he has just discovered the emotion of fear.
She may have more to worry about actually, as with his kiss she has just lost her goddess status and needs to newly grapple with mortality. More immediately, her deflowering looms. They are both going to take the leap out of virginity, but not without lots of hesitation that gives each a chance to aria shine and then re-combine into duet magic.
Better, the set gives her a pink striped chamber to retreat into while his mirror image one is blue striped. Both chambers seem to have balloon ceilings—exciting wonder for this writer as perhaps others as to whether they would somehow be popped, which never happens, but they nonetheless communicate the protection of childhood. Each chamber also has a small child’s chair, respectively pink and blue. He, ever bam bam boy style, throws his tiny chair down at one point, while she clutches hers in front of her for protection of her maidenhood.
This is but one moment when the set design becomes a powerful co-communicator with Wagner’s score in this production (Original set designer: Johan Engels; Set Designer: Robert Innes Hopkins). While the libretto and score is a lot of back and forth negotiation of no-maybe-yes to sex, the set conveys how this is about putting aside all childish things and becoming man instead of boy, and woman instead of girl-goddess.
Truth to tell, there is so much costume, puppet and set design brilliance in this production that we may already be taking it for granted long before this finale scene. For former girls of a certain age, it begins even before the curtain rise when a curious display of what looks like a game of pickup sticks greets us. Later, when that design is unveiled as the motif for all-seeing Erda’s dress and also the vest for the God Wotan posing as The Wanderer it evokes the vasculature inside our eyeballs and a peek at the lifeblood coursing through our body. (Costume Design: Marie-Jeanne Lecca). Here, Erda’s eyes that see all are bound by red, and her enormous dress with this life-blood pattern billows with the help of puppeteer/dancers, both a costume and a set in one piece. They seem to say, “Take a look at the force of supernature.” Just as much as Wagner’s score and the powerhouse performance by mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller in this role.
Similarly, the costume for Mime (Matthias Klink), the manipulative dwarf whose schemes to trick fearless and clueless Siegfried, is a housedress with a woman’s bust line of sorts, giving shape, quite literally, to his claim that he has been both mother and father to our hero.
More than anything though, it is the larger than life children’s playroom set of the opening scenes that immediately grabs you – along with quick darting eyes of a dragon—and catapults you into a place where you expect fun from this production- and get it. That this backdrop can make its child’s drawing of the sun pop or recede with lighting changes is a constant attention riveter (Lighting Design: Fabrice Kebour). The whimsy of this playroom design also sets the stage for the famed anvil scene when super-strong Siegfried takes over making his own sword. In this production, we don’t know whether to listen to the famed musical motif that perhaps defines this opera more than any other, or just sit back and be amazed at the creative touches by Director David Pountey. Siegfried gets the job done with the help of what seems to be a variant of IKEA delivery men, and YouTube instructional videos on how to assemble distilled into step-by-step posters. How can you not smile?
And then there are the puppets!!! Long before we hear the dazzling voice of Diana Newman as the Forest Bird we meet this character as a puppet swirling in and about the stage with the help of one of the dozen or so puppeteer/dancers. These same dark clad puppeteer/dancers become dancing blades of grass, flames, and even an ever ready ever on the move easy chair for Siegfried to help convey his spoiled bratty ways. You soon realize these dancers were the motors for the dragons’ fast moving eyes, and by the time they become the dragon’s claws and tail we truly have tuned them out as their black attire wants us to, and instead put our focus on the fierceness of the dragon, as the myth requires. (Choreographer: Denni Sayers)
In some ways, the stagecraft in this Siegfried is so dazzling that it’s as if the orchestra and singers have to follow and compete with cute puppies and adorable children to try to get your attention. Perhaps that’s why the overture to each act was so especially satisfying. At first it’s a tuba’s slow notes amidst a mere hum of tympani. And in the last act overture we hear epic music announcing the great dramatic finale about to be unveiled. Once the libretto kicks in, the repeating and interweaving musical motifs so central to this score that help anticipate every action and emotion almost become subliminal, for those of us so enraptured by the visuals.
Lyric Opera Brings Superstar Opera Talents to Their Stage—As Usual
To say that this Lyric production features superlative singing and music seems to this reviewer to be a bit redundant. Do you expect anything less than that ! Burkhard Fritz as Siegfried sings in nearly every scene with an energizer bunny type consistency. The entire cast matches his energy, though in the first scenes it seemed to this reviewer that we could hear the singing much more clearly when the performers were positioned towards the front of the stage. At other times, they seemed drowned out a bit by the orchestra. (Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis)
For this writer, the star of the stars is bass-baritone Eric Owens as The Wanderer. Sometimes on stilts designed to make the dwarfs appear as dwarfs, sometimes appearing to be the puppetmaster of the forest bird whom Siegfried heeds, and then the supplicant of sorts to his one-time Goddess wife Erda, and more-- Owens was always the strongest voice in the hall, For this reviewer, it was hard not to be aurally glued to him and to eagerly anticipate the plot twists that would bring his return.
What a pity that many less-than-opera diehards will skip this opera, assuming this music, like all Wagner, is akin to the challenge of digesting a heavy German meal. Wipe that picture of the soprano wearing a horn crown and spitting out words overstuffed with the too many consonants and vowels of the German tongue out of your mind. In Poutney’s able hands this part of Wagner’s Ring Cycle is light, easy-to-digest, and easier still to enjoy. It’s five hours long- but they do go quickly.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Cast: MATTHIAS KLINK, BURKHARD FRITZ, ERIC OWENS, SAMUEL YOUN, PATRICK GUETTI, DIANA NEWMAN, RONNITA MILLER, CHRISTINE GOERKE
BRIAN J. BARBER, JON BEAL, NICHOLAS HARAZIN, CHRIS LAFFERTY, JOSHUA LEE, JOHN B. LEEN, DAVID LINTZENICH, RICHARD MANERA, JOSHUA MOANEY, MICHAEL SAUBERT, JR., LAURENCE STEPNEY, KAI YOUNG; KATHERINE COYL, MICHELLE FORD,
KELLY MARYANSKI, MAGGIE CLENNON REBERG, SARAH SAPPERSTEIN
Conductor: SIR ANDREW DAVIS
Director: DAVID POUNTNEY
Scenic Design: JOHAN ENGELS and ROBERT INNES HOPKINS
Costume Design: MARIE-JEANNE LECCA
Lighting Design: FABRICE KEBOUR
Choreographer: DENNI SAYERS
Wig and Makeup: SARAH HATTEN