How difficult is it to stage Richard Wagner’s “Siegfried”? Or more precisely, how difficult is it to find a tenor to sing the punishing title role? The Met Opera announced no fewer than two tenors, who then withdrew, before it came up with someone who actually could sing Siegfried for Robert Lepage’s new production. If this is scraping the bottom of the barrel, then the Met should do it more often: Newcomer Jay Hunter Morris is magnificent, and he’s mostly surrounded by equally wonderful singers familiar to auds who’ve seen Lepage’s stagings of the previous two operas in Wagner’s tetralogy.
After “Das Rheingold” and “Die Walkure,” Lepage’s staging of this chapter of “The Ring” is less revelatory. Those humongous piano keys of Carl Fillion’s unit set are more stationery, not so abstract, and are used primarily as a wall to project images. Acts one and two begin with a lot of hyper-realistic snakes and bugs that slither about, but when the keys turn, they morph into a beautiful forest suitable for your favorite fairytale. When the libretto asks for a bear, a mountain stream and a bird, we get precisely that. But all this literalism ultimately turns into kitsch. After grossing us out with those snakes and bugs, the forest’s ultimate bad secret is a cutesy dragon straight from Universal CityWalk.
Lepage and Fillion are on firmer ground with the more abstract earthscape and firestorm of act three. Perhaps kinks will be worked out in future perfs, but when those piano keys flip to create new formations, they often sound like they weigh every pound of their many tons.
There have been more expansive readings of “Siegfried,” but Fabio Luisi’s conducting has real drive that doesn’t lag for a minute of the opera’s five-plus hours. Opening-night perf came in 20 minutes under the estimated running time.
Morris, possessing a clear and focused voice, sings with great precision, and his lament for the mother he never knew is truly poignant. A sympathetic Siegfried? What a wonderful contradiction. Bryn Terfel continues to offer a commanding yet deeply conflicted Wotan/Wanderer. And Gerhard Siegel’s Mime is beautifully sung. OK, he’s playing a hate-filled hunchback, but within the twisted confines of the role, this is impassioned singing.
The character Brunnhilde actually gets beautiful music to sing. Unfortunately, Deborah Voigt is no longer up to the demands of the role.
The Met’s “Live in HD” transmission of “Siegfried” plays in movies theaters Nov. 5.