Siegfried, Wagner

Bayreuther Festspiele 2010

Boys and their Toys

So much of Wagner’s Ring is gloom-and-doom that sometimes the lighter side - the elements of humour, youthful bravado, and rebirth - can get lost in the fog of dry ice. Not so with Tankred Dorst’s production of Siegfried this summer at Bayreuth, which, lead by the astonishing cast of Lance Ryan (Siegfried), Linda Watson (Brünnhilde) and Wolfgang Schmidt (Mime), tears through the budding hero’s journey of self-discovery with fresh, uncynical enthusiasm.

The now-familiar themes of Dorst & Schlößmann’s staging - the sadness of environmental destruction; the gods’ slowly diminishing (but actual) presence in our world - are further developed here. But inhabiting this world of waste and abandonment we now have a shining beam of hope, embodied in the untamed carrot-top of young Siegfried.

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

Photos by: Photos by: Bayreuther Festspieler GmbH/Jörg Schulze & Enrico Nawrath

While Wotan (Albert Dohmen, looking like “Black Max”) in the guise of “The Wanderer” grows ever-wearier of life’s struggles and Mime’s cringing fear sends him constantly scuttling for cover, Siegfried knows neither tiredness nor fear, and dashes from bear-hunting to blowing things up in the lab to falling in love at first sight.

The stamina required to sing this role is nearly superhuman, and Canadian tenor Lance Ryan gave his all to every phrase, while bounding to and fro, without ever cracking a note. While the quality of his voice seemed a bit nasal for my taste at the start, Ryan rounded it out as the evening went on, and the generosity and physical spontaneity of his performance won me over absolutely.

The opening act in Mime’s workshop, here a former schoolroom, provided an entertaining bag of tricks (The Wanderer exiting the schoolhouse, then magically reappearing from behind a chalkboard), as well as humour, in the Odd Couple pairing of the Poison Dwarf and his strapping “son”. A favourite moment was the sight of father and adopted son both identically bent over their anvils, hammering out their swords in unison. Wolfgang Schmidt (Mime) is a great comic actor, with the expert timing and physicality this requires, who managed to make his character simultaneously despicable and pitiable. Poor Mime, one felt, boxed around by his brattish, ungrateful son. And this sense fit nicely into the narrative: Siegfried, the moody adolescent, still has a lot of growing up to do.

He grows up quite quickly, of course, through the trials of Act Two, and then through the Great Awakening (literally) of Act Three, in which Siegfried and Brünnhilde at last meet after her decades-long sleep.

Bernd Ernst Skodzig, whose costuming is so graphically effective throughout this Ring, performs a breathtaking gesture in the transformation of Brünnhilde from Valkyrie into mortal woman. We recognize her as a version of the warrior-goddess she once was, yet everything about her has been rendered softer, more human: the vermilion helmet of hair now falls about her shoulders in blond tresses; her plexiglass shield has become a rusting bronze, her spiky armour now a silken robe.

The following scene between the shy, uncertain Siegfried, afraid for the first time, and the old-souled Brünnhilde was deeply moving, filled with the awkward, nervous tension of young lovers. The cautious meeting of his virginal innocence with her vestigial divinity allowed for moments of comic sweetness - Siegfried offering her toys from his bag as gifts - and earth-shaking power: the cliffs parting as she again sings her Valkyrie war-cry of yore.

But, the movement of set pieces aside, the real earth-shaking power of the scene emanated from the two phenomenal voices on the stage. Linda Watson, with a lower range of gorgeous bass-clarinetty sumptuousness and a higher range easily soaring over the full might of a Wagnerian orchestra, is a Brünnhilde for the ages. (And she can sing quietly when called for, too!) And, as stated above, Lance Ryan powered through the final leg of the Siegfried Vocal Triathlon without any signs of fatigue, giving his all to every phrase.

The set falls away almost completely and the lovers stand together under a starry sky, illuminated by a single, bluish beam in the surrounding darkness . . . the larger context of the Ring, of Tankred Dorst’s Regie, of the Bayreuther Festspiele fades into obscurity, and we are left with these two figures, standing tall and united after overcoming every imaginable obstacle.

The real goddesses and heroes do walk among us, and they are disguised as opera singers.

Bottom line: Is that even possible?


Georges Briscot


response to this review:

Production Credits

Conductor - Christian Thielemann
Director - Tankred Dorst
Set Design - Frank Philipp Schl÷▀mann
Costumes - Bernd Ernst Skodzig
Lighting Designer - Ulrich Niepel


Siegfried - Lance Ryan
Mime - Wolfgang Schmidt
Der Wanderer - Albert Dohmen
Alberich - Andrew Shore
Fafner - Diógenes Randes
Erda - Christa Mayer
Brünnhilde - Linda Watson
Waldvogel - Christiane Kohl