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Richard Wagner: Siegfried
07 Jan 2007

WAGNER: Siegfried

The cover art for the Opus Arts DVD of Wagner's Siegfried, from the Nederlandse Opera in 1999, features Mime, as impersonated by Graham Clark, in amazing make-up and costume: a bald, bulging head almost split down the middle by a furrow of anxiety, and clad in a ghastly green insect-like carapace, including wire-like hair and a bobbing tail-sack.

Richard Wagner: Siegfried

Heinz Kruse, Graham Clark, John Brocheler, Henk Smit, Carsten Stabell, Anne Gjevang, Jeannine Altmeyer, Stefan Pangratz, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Hartmut Haenchen (cond.). Stage Director Pierre Audi

Opus Arte OA 0948 D [3DVDs]

$56.03  Click to buy

But that alone doesn't make Clark's Mime worthy of the cover - he simply dominates the performance due to both his own inimitable energy and commitment, and also, unfortunately, due to the lesser success of his colleagues.

Pierre Audi's production, with designs by George Tsypin, can't really be defined by locale or time period. The innovation here is a ramp between the audience and the orchestra, corralled into a modified pit and nearly always visible behind the singers, the musicians' score desks' lights making an eerie backdrop. The conventional stage area comes into play only for a few key moments, such as the awakenings of Fafner and Brunhillde (neither particularly well-staged). Singing on the ramp, before the orchestra, may have had some advantages for the singers. This DVD has refreshingly realistic sound, and all the singers at least seem capable of delivering their individual role's requirements.

Don't expect much more, however. Heinz Kruse takes on the notoriously difficult title role, and vocally, he does a decent job. His tone lacks the heroic glamour Wagner probably wished, and there are times in act one where there seem to be two Mime's on the stage. Out of respect for Kruse's capable performance, your reviewer will not belabor the fact that as a stage presence he is decidedly not the handsome young hero of the libretto.

The cycle's Wotan, John Bröcheler, makes his way through the role without touching any of the many veins of this complex character: tragic, lustful, bombastic, visionary. The final confrontation between the hero Wotan wanted to save his world, and Wotan himself, realizing his world is beyond salvation, is twice-injured: by the singers' lack of inspiration and the clumsy depiction of the spear (here a sort of metal pole hanging from who knows where).

One risky but successful venture has the Forest Bird sung and performed by a boy soprano, Stefan Pangratz. The intonation issues that usually plague such young singers are thankfully absent, and he makes an appealing figure in his brief time on stage. Henk Smit's Alberich, Carsten Stabell's Fafner, and Anne Gjevang's Erda fill out the cast adequately.

And at opera's end, of course, Brunnhilde welcomes the sun (here an enormous bank of lights looking rather like an oversized tanning bed). A beautiful and affecting Sieglinde in the Boulez Walkure from Bayreuth, Jeannnine Altemeyer has the stage charisma to portray Wotan's rebellious daughter. Her passion and fear come across, but when the music asks for ecstasy at a higher level, the tone loses strength. The final duet becomes more a test of endurance, with both singers straining.

But Clark's odious Mime saves the show, clambering, scheming, scampering, and singing with wicked delight. The star of the show gets the cover, quite naturally.

Chris Mullins

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