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Wagnerian adventure

The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
01/23/2016 -  & January 27, 30, February 2, 5, 11, 14, 2016
Richard Wagner: Siegfried
Stefan Vinke (Siegfried), Christine Goerke (Brünnhilde), Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (Mime), Alan Held (The Wanderer), Christopher Purves (Alberich), Meredith Arwady (Erda), Jacqueline Woodley (The Woodbird), Phillip Ens (Fafner), George Molnar (The Bear)
The Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Johannes Debus (conductor)
François Girard (director), Marilyn Gronsdal (associate director), Michael Levine (set and costume designer), David Finn (lighting designer), Donna Feore (choreographer)

S. Vinke (© Michael Cooper)

After last season’s Die Walküre this is the second installment of the COC’s revisit of the three music dramas from its 2006 Ring.

A detailed description of the staging can be found in my review from 2006. François Girard’s stylized staging still works wonderfully in places (as with the human pyramid Fafner) and not so well at other times, especially in the third act when the grouped supernumeraries acting as human scenery have finished what they had to do (they were the flames guarding Brünnhilde - see photo above) and their presence is a distraction until they very slowly (too slowly) vanish into the inky darkness.

Overall, though, the drama is handled well in a work where there is so much time devoted to scenes that contain relatively sparse action.

Stefan Vinke (in his local debut) deserves to be called Mr. Stamina in what must be opera’s most grueling role. His voice rings out healthily right to the end - in fact he seems to get a second wind up for the final scene with his Brünnhilde, Christine Goerke. It really is a coup for the COC to nab her for her triple debuts (with Götterdämmerung coming up next season). If her current trajectory continues she is bound to become a historic performer in the role.

The work can be grueling for listeners as well without compete exploitation of expressive variety in both voice and orchestra. There is not a weak link in the cast and the other lengthy tenor role, that of Mime, finds Austrian tenor Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, devoting the fullest possible range of expressiveness to a role than can be gratingly one-dimensional.

It’s great to see Alan Held back, this time giving a definitive performance as The Wanderer. Christopher Purves’s power-house voice makes a visceral impression in the role of the vengeful, ever-plotting Alberich. Phillip Ens is the only singer returning from the 2006 cast; his well-oiled voice is as impressive as ever.

Jacqueline Woodley displays both vocal heft and sparkle as the Woodbird, and Meredith Arwady is suitably doleful as the doom-haunted Erda.

Siegfried is known as the scherzo, or playful “movement” of the Ring Cycle. The work’s most famous line, Siegfried’s “Das ist kein Mann” exclaimed when he cuts the sleeping Brünnhilde’s armour away, is not translated on the surtitle strip and therefore does not receive the usual laughter. I suppose the work’s “joke” is more cosmic in scale as it lies in the unfolding irony in the unraveling of Wotan and Alberich’s efforts to achieve and retain power.

The major source of sonic variety has to be the orchestra, and Johannes Debus (this is his first Siegfried) clearly sets forth every nuance while still conveying the big picture. It would be great if the company were able to put him on the podium for integral production of the entire Ring. The pit is very full for these performances, with 102 players, many of whom play more than one instrument, such as the four horn players who also play Wagner tubas.

Overall, a real treat, and not just for dedicated Wagnerites.

Michael Johnson



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