Siegfried a Hit and a Miss at the COC

The Four Seasons Centre.

The Four Seasons Centre.

On Sunday February 14th, 2016, I caught the last performance of Wagner’s Siegfried at the Canadian Opera Company (COC).  It was both breathtaking and disheartening.

The production is by Canadian director François Girard with sets by Michael Levine. David Finn was the lighting director, while Donna Feore was the choreographer.  This was the third time the COC performed the production since its debut in 2005, the last time being part of the entire Ring in 2006.

The highlights of the production were definitely the singers and the orchestra led by Music Director Johannes Debus.  Christine Goerke was Brünnhilde, Stefan Vinke sang the title role of Siegfried, Alan Held was the Wanderer, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke was Mime, Christopher Purves was Alberich, Phillip Ens was Fafner, Meredith Arwady was Erda, and Jacqueline Woodley sang the role of the Woodbird.

The COC managed to find the right people at the right time for this production.  All sang their roles extremely well, and with apparent ease.  Mr. Vinke was certainly the best of the group and managed to sing with confidence, and with sufficient power, throughout the entire production, from his first line right up to the end – a feat that is not easy to accomplish, especially when singing over a 100+ piece orchestra that was playing full out at times.

The production, however, was certainly confusing at times, and left much to be delivered.  The production is supposed to take place in a dream for Siegfried.  While I have seen this concept work, this production does not.

The first act essentially is a tree featuring a stump, Siegfried representing part of the trunk (when we was not supposed to be on stage anyway), and the canopy represented by a metal contraption with pieces of a broken Valhalla, acrobats, and mannequins.  The acrobats would move, and/or be highlighted by lighting, at different times during the production, with two of them supposedly being Siegfried’s parents, Siegmund and Sieglinde.  The idea is nice, but confusing at the same time, especially during the scene between the Wanderer and Mime when Siegfried sits on the stump instead of running into the forest.  As Mime points out to the Wanderer that Siegfried’s parents are Siegmund and Sieglinde, minutes after he told Siegfried that he did not know who is father was, one has to wonder how Siegfried does not hear this!

The second act essentially turns the stage at a 45 degree angle so it starts out looking down at the stump, before becoming the cave for Fafner.  The acrobats are removed, but the mannequins are not upside down.  Again, for an act that takes place in a forest, this looks more like a garbage dump than anything else.  And Siegfried, instead of bringing his horn with him, merely picks it it up off the floor – I guess he must have been there before and forgotten to take the horn home with him!

The third act worked the best overall, in my opinion.  While there is little staging, other then a number of supernumeraries laying in a circle on the ground (who later create the magic fire) the stage is bare, and it becomes bare by the end as the supernumeraries leave by the end of the act.  This allowed Miss Goerke and Mr. Vinke to have our complete attention, which they certainly did deserve.

The bear, normally only a small bit part, remains on stage for the entire first act.  This is a total disregard for the text as Siegfried does specifically tell the bear that it’s free to go.  Also, with the bear wearing pajamas, all I can say is that I have seen fake pictures of Sasquatch that looked more intimidating.

As for our dragon Fafner, out dragon is a six person pyramid.  While it is hard to bring a dragon to life on stage, this was nothing more than an insult to the audience in my opinion.  Some imagination would not have been a miss here.  Have some fun.  But let’s have something that looks like a dragon.

Also, there are points where the stage action differs from what the text music suggests.  The main examples are:

  • As the first act concludes, Siegfried asks Mime to judge his sword yet does nothing with it.  In other productions Siegfried will break an anvil, or do something to show off how strong Nothung is.  Also, with all the music describing Siegfried’s running off into the forest to find Fafner, instead he just claims back onto the stump and sits there.
  • During the second act, again the music at the conclusion of the act suggests that Siegfried running after the forest bird while on their way to find Brünnhilde.  In this production, he merely walks, slowly, towards the front of the stage.  Again, totally against what the music would suggest.
  • The Wanderer remains on stage after his scene in Act One – he slowly walks around the back of the stump before sitting down, and apparently falling asleep, on one side of the tree.  Again, how did Siegfried not see him and ask Mime who the guy with the spear, or the long twig in this production, is.  Again, this just adds confusion.
  • The forging scene, with the exception of the example below, is basically just a stand (or in this case sit down) and sing event.  There is no real forging of the sword.  Siegfried does have an open pit, with supernumeraries hands (glowing with red lights) coming out of the pit to indicate a fire.  At the end of the scene, Siegfried simply hands down two pieces of the sword, and surprise guess what comes out?  Yes, a brand new sword.  Sorry, but I couldn’t wait for the forging scene to end – it was so boring.

There are two improvements that I noticed over the last time this production was performed:

In the first act, Siegfried actually bangs two pieces of the broken sword together to make a hammering sound.  In the previous runs, Siegfried did nothing at all, and the hammering sound came from the opposite side of the pit from where he was standing.

At the end of the performance, our lovers actually embrace.  Previously, they seemed too scared to do so, despite what the music would suggest.

All in all, the singing and the orchestra were excellent are are definitely worth listening too.  However, the production takes away from the performance and comes over as confusing.  And while attempts were made to improve the performance, vast changes still need to be made.

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