Review: Siegfried (Canadian Opera Company)

1045-1078 – Stefan Vinke in the title role slaying Fafner the dragon in the Canadian Opera Company production of Siegfried, 2016. Conductor Johannes Debus, Director François Girard, Set and Costume Designer Michael Levine, Lighting Designer David Finn and Choreographer Donna Feore. Photo: Michael CooperThe Canadian Opera Company remounts its production of Wagner’s Siegfried in Toronto

The opening strains of Siegfried by Richard Wagner are deceptively quiet. The Canadian Opera Company orchestra’s interpretation of the sinuous and furtive marriage between rumbling timpani and hollow reeds allowed the foreboding drama of the penultimate installment of Der Ring Des Niebelungen (The Ring Cycle) to creep into our senses. The orchestra in this work is no less a character than any of the larger than life voices on stage, palpably breathing in tandem with the sweeping vocal lines for which this work is known.

Opera lovers love The Ring Cycle and expect a lot. François Girard’s production, last performed by the COC in 2006, met every inch of those expectations.

The production employed black and white contrast with occasional red lighting and an imposing, industrial tree of life to capture both the stark mystery of the forest and the epic proportions of the tale. The use of live performers as set elements was striking, and incorporated thoughtful yet accessible symbolism. Bodies became living sculptures, with the dragon Fafner being the most cunning example of this effect.

Every singer in this production was a power house. A sizeable instrument is a requirement for singing over the dense, hundred piece orchestra used in The Ring Cycle. Stefan Vinke, in addition to having a robust and sparkling Heldentenor instrument, is in possession of a truly dynamic stage presence that brought the brash, youthful vitality of the title character to life vividly.

Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, making his COC debut, was captivating in the role of the evil dwarf Mime. By uniting a powerful and supple voice with prowess as a character actor, he was simultaneously sympathetic, grotesque, and funny.

Alan Held, who showed us he could be hilarious and endearing as Gianni Schicchi in his 2012 COC debut, showed us a different, darker and imposing side to his dramatic range as the Wanderer in this production.

Opera lovers who are in it for the singing should follow the career of Jacqueline Woodley. Her sunny, golden voice is perfect for the woodland bird who magically guides the fearless hero Siegfried. The same metallic edge that lends brightness to the sweetness of her timbre allowed her to cut through the orchestra effortlessly, a true feat for the lighter voice that is needed for this role.

The awakening of Brünnhilde, during the second half of the final act, is the moment we’ve all been waiting for in this opera. The incomparable Christine Goerke, who was born to sing this role, had the audience wrapped around her pinky finger from the first note. Time stood still during her duet with Siegfried, some of the most powerful operatic music ever written. We had no idea we had been there for five hours and could have listened to those two profess their legendary love for one another forever.

In a truly outstanding production, the costumes were the weakest link. Brünnhilde, by virtue of having been put to sleep in her elegant, black velvet gown at the end of Die Walküre, mercifully avoided the standard-issue, baggy, white pyjamas that absolutely every other member of the cast (including the bear) was sporting.

If you are already a convert to the wonders of Wagner, this production will reaffirm your faith. If you are a novice, this production will be a wonderful introduction. Do not be intimidated if you haven’t seen the first two operas of The Ring Cycle, most of the first act is a recap. The run time is 5 hours, with two intermissions, so come caffeinated, and with a well-rested posterior.

Details:

  • Siegfried is playing until February 14 at Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen Street West)
  • Show times are 6:30 PM on January 27, February 2, 5, & 11 with additional matinees on January 30 at 4:30 PM and February 14 at 2 PM.
  • Ticket prices range from $45 – $365. Patrons under 30 can purchase tickets for $22 or $35 here.
  • Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-363-8231 (long distance 1-800-250-4653)

Photo of Stefan Vinke by Michael Cooper