Friday, August 9, 2013

Stefan Vinke: truly heroic in Seattle Opera's 'Siegfried'

Wagner’s Siegfried; Dennis Petersen (Mime), Stefan Vinke (Siegfried). © Elise Bakketun photo
The indomitable hero Siegfried may not know the meaning of fear, but the opening of Seattle Opera's Siegfried had one critic huddled in his seat, shivering with apprehension before the curtain was ever drawn. Rumbling sinuously out from the depths of the world it seemed, Fafner the Dragon's leitmotif on the contrabass tuba began this the third installment of Wagner's Der Ring Des Nibelungen.

Stefan Vinke, in his SO debut in the title role, was actually a little hard to like at first. So hard, in fact, that I didn't realize it was by design until later. This boorish, ignorant young man, besotted by the hubris of youth, rattled along in quasi-parlando fashion at first, braying about his hatred for his guardian Mime (Dennis Petersen), the only other person he has ever known. As he brings The Bear (JC Casiano) onstage to bully the hapless dwarf in hilarious fashion, again there was a bit of schadenfreude in the laughter, making it all the more enjoyable. Why do we laugh so to see poor Mime tormented, wretch though he is, in Das Rheingold and now in this?

Wagner’s Siegfried; Dennis Petersen (Mime).© Elise Bakketun photo
Petersen's portrayal of Mime, and the duality of the relationship with Siegfried, was fascinating to behold. Not only was Petersen's voice marvelous, his diction impeccable and precise, but, despite the fact that he is ultimately planning to kill Siegfried, and the fact that Siegfried himself wouldn't cry to see Mime go the way of the dodo, he and Vinke show that there is a curious intimacy between them, for all of Siegfried's berating and bullying. These two men as actors show that, though their characters can't stand one another, damned if they aren't (for the time being) stuck with one another, and that has forged a curious bond, an unwanted yet at times adorable tenderness in spite of both their ultimate intentions.   Greer Grimsley returns in Wotan's disguise of The Wanderer to further his ambitions as to his progeny; there is a palpable,  rising tension in his and Mime's exchange of riddles that culminates in the gnome's being let off the hook. Of special note too in this act was the duet-like connection between Mime and the bassoon; delicious to hear. When Siegfried forges Nothung again Vinke sings this with such effortless power, such vivacity and ease that it was electrifying, positively riveting. An absolutely incredible display of musicality and vocal prowess; his rave reviews from last year's Covent Garden Ring were no fluke.

The creeping sense of dread that accompanies Fafner's leitmotif returned in even stronger fashion as the second act opened...such a visceral, visually evocative sensation long before we ever see the dragon. Richard Paul Fink returned as Alberich and he and Grimsley engaged in a duet filled with believable tension and hatred as they spoke of their competing claims as to the outcome of Siegfried's coming confrontation with Fafner, though we are left wondering why the Wanderer is (seemingly) so unconcerned as to what happens if Alberich gains control of the Ring and makes good on his promise to storm Valhalla with the armies of Hella.

Wagner’s Siegfried; Stefan Vinke (Siegfried) and Fafner. © Alan Alabastro photo
Siegfried's attempt to convince the dizzyingly coloratura Forest Bird (Jennifer Zetlan) to speak to him again was again one of the many moments of levity sprinkled throughout, and we are tempted to forget for a moment (as does Siegfried) the lurking menace of the dragon so near, which reminds us again that, though Siegfried is fearless, we are not.  As the gruesome beast finally rears its head in a beautiful piece of stagecraft, an impressive and draconian image with sprawling leathern wings, hoary head and snake-like coils, there is still a sense of humanity there--Fafner (Daniel Sumegi) is somehow visible through the Tarnhelm's disguise. After he kills the beast, and Mime shortly afterward, Siegfried's strange tenderness toward both his slain foes shows that he does in fact know something of love, though he is not aware of it. By this point the brash youth has surely won our affection.

Wagner’s Siegfried; Lucille Beer (Erda), Greer Grimsley (Wotan).© Alan Alabastro photo
Lucille Beer as Erda is summoned by The Wanderer, and sings her role in a mellifluous, incredibly resonant contralto. She and  Grimsley engage in a slow, strange dance, elegant though dilatory like the ponderous movement of techtonic plates, and the feeling is heightened by the ruddy hue of the ancient setting in which they dance. Beer displays without questions Erda's qualities, having all the bearing of a deeper and older spirit than even Wotan himself. When Wotan is defied and ultimately overcome by Siegfried, The Wanderer's strangely calm acceptance of the eventual outcome reveals that, ultimately, none of this is much of a surprise to him.

Lori Phillips, no stranger to SO audiences, covered the role of Brünnhilde as Alwyn Mellor was ill. But as soon as she opened her mouth for 'Heil dir, Sonne!' it was clear that there would be nothing wanting from her vocal performance. The closing moments as Siegfried convinces the reluctant once-goddess that she must indeed love him as he does her are compelling; is she afraid in a sort of Oedipus-by-proxy complex as his aunt, or is it awakening to the newfound realities of her mortality that frightens her so? Phillips doesn't answer that, but the dawning reality of her love for Siegfried makes the question moot.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Superb Review. Looking forward to your take on Gotterdamerung. HoJotoho!