Having successfully accomplished the heroic strides toward manhood, the young Siegfried (John Treleaven) rests with his newfound Brunnhilde (Linda Watson) on her rock and its vista of the Rhine and the glints of its stolen gold. Fourteen hours of operatic time have passed, delightfully for the most part. Lovers have met and violently parted, a dragon’s death throes have watered the land, a Woodbird (Stacey Tappan) has inflamed the young hero with desire for a maiden asleep amid the flames, and now — in the third of the four episodes of Wagner’s towering sexual-mythological-historical-lyrical-exasperating retelling of his homeland’s defining artwork, is hotly inspired. The retelling of the young Siegfried’s coming, going, falling, rising and ultimate triumph is, at the least, a terrific show.
The triumph belongs in large estate to Achim Freyer, whose staging of his visual conception becomes a triumph of geometry, as much as anything. He has framed his story within a stage filled with lines and shapes, projected on surfaces of many curves and twists. As Siegfried proves his prowess by returning the Sword to its usable shape, illuminated rods and shapes come together as usable lines, and the Sword metamorphoses into a tool of action. Siegfried impales the dragon Fafner (Eric Halvarson) on it , and a roll of crimson paper unfurls to form a pool of dragon’s blood. Freyer’s feat has been to activate his stage designs into a kinetic masterwork comparable to Wagner’s triumph.
What we have here is a “Siegfried” without a Siegfried: Treleaven is an attractive chap, yellow hair all aglow, but with no color in the vocal delivery where it is most needed. Watson’s Brunnhilde is similarly encumbered; from her “Heil dir, Sonne!” the so-called love duet simply churns onward, with two uninteresting stage folk uninvolved in much of an artistic purpose. Their final clinch, in fact, bears amusing resemblance — in sight and in sound — to wedding-cake statuary.
This great musical drama, seldom heard in this region and never with so much personality in its stage presence, crash-lands from inadequate command in its crucial mechanism. Even Fafner the Dragon, the awaited moment in all “Siegfried” productions, is reduced here to Halvarson, booming out impressively through the PA system but visually reduced to an old codger in a bathrobe.
Some moments in “Siegfried” that have largely been regarded as dreary — the “20 Questions” scene between Wotan (Vitalij Kowaljow) and Mime (Graham Clark), here wreathed in wind and brass tone from James Conlon’s great Music Center orchestra — were truly beautiful this time thanks to the singing of Kowaljow (a solid, nicely schooled baritone) and Clark (an antic and delightful dwarf Mime).
Five hours pass: some magnificently illumed, some curiously misfit. If you know Freyer’s work from video — the DVDs of his Stuttgart “Freischutz” or of Unsuk Chin’s lovely “Alice in Wonderland” at the Munich Opera — you don’t need further endorsement of the scope, the sporadic magnificence of his work. Alas, there are other forces also at work here, not so benign.