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I'm not sure I have anything coherent to say about this -- the third opera in Wagner's Ring Cycle, which I saw last night -- but I'm going to put down some notes in case I want to write about the whole shebang at some point. I went into Siegfried with the idea that it might be the least interesting of the four Ring operas, so is it a surprise that I came out feeling that way? At the same time I'm not sure why I felt it was the least interesting. As with the other two Ring operas I've seen so far, there were things I liked and things I didn't. Why did I feel dissatisfied overall with this one, where I mostly liked Die Walküre (except for the third act)?

Well, I think I found the music less interesting overall, although there were still some bits I liked. The orchestral interludes were kind of a letdown, whereas they've been the best part of the previous operas. I've had problems with the vocal parts in all the operas, but I really found little to like vocally in this one. Beyond the music, however, I just found the heroic and romantic ideal held up in this one completely ridiculous. Siegfried as the ideal man just wasn't cutting it for me. All the rampant phallic symbols (which have been there all through the cycle) became laughable. The love duet between Siegfried and Brünnhilde, with all its high-minded hogwash about "light-bringing love and laughing death," gave me a headache, whereas I found the love duet between Siegmund and Siegelinde in Die Walküre quite beautiful and delicate.

That said, much as with Die Walküre there were plenty of things in the first two acts that I *did* like. The sense of humor is great, and there's a goofy side to Siegfried that's much more appealing than his stalwart heroicism. Mime is one of the more interesting characters in the cycle as well, and he gets plenty of room to shine in the first two acts, before Siegfried finally offs him. The riddle scene between Mime and Wotan is great fun, and a clever way to deliver exposition about what has happened in the previous operas. Wotan is in great form in Siegfried, and his appearances in all three acts are pretty much the highpoints (although in the third act he basically delivers a big expository lump to poor, passive Erda -- mansplaining!)

As I said in my previous post about the Ring, the production is a big part of the fascination for me, so another reason Siegfried may have felt a little disappointing is that we had seen three of the four sets in the previous two operas. The spectacle therefore wasn't as fresh. One of the sets had been re-dressed with a large rotting log in an attempt to make it look different. The two others that we'd seen before I think were supposed to be the same locations as before, so it made sense. I say "I think" because in one case -- the set where Siegfried slays the dragon Fafner -- my only reason for thinking it was the same place where we had seen Hunding kill Siegmund is that I thought there was a bloodstain from where Siegmund died. However, this wasn't really commented on, so I'm not completely sure about that. I do think we saw Siegfried finger the stain at one point, which seemed significant to me. The argument against it being the same spot is that the dragon wasn't living there before. Maybe it moved in later?

Anyway, the one new set was a cliffside that looked like it could have come out of the Crooked River Canyon in Central Oregon. Considering the fact that many of the forest sets have reminded me of the rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula, it made me wonder if the set designers were consciously going for a Pacific Northwest look. I could imagine them traveling around the peninsula going, "Ooh, there's a great tree. Let's copy it!"

I was curious how they would do the dragon, and it was a nice piece of work. Basically they showed the tail coiled in a cave and snaking out to bop Siegfried in the face, making him think it was the whole dragon, and then the head and one huge wing hove into the gap between hillocks in the set. I kept expecting it to shoot fire out of its jaws, but no. It wasn't the greatest special effect in the operas, but it looked cool. Actually, I did wonder how they got the "blood" on Siegfried's sword when he stabbed the dragon, because I didn't see how it happened. (In some ways the best special effects in this episode came when Siegfried reforged the sword, Nothung, although I found the martial, hammering rhythm of this section just as dull and annoying as pretty much of all the more emphatic, thumping music in the whole cycle.)

Again, I saw and heard lots of things that have been echoed in later pop culture. Perhaps a stretch, but Wotan's wayfarer's hat reminded me of the hat Gandalf wears in Jackson's Lord of the Rings, but actually I suppose the influence could be in the other direction in that case, since costuming is not described by Wagner, as far as I know, so the costume designers could have taken their ideas from anywhere. Musically, there was an instance of Siegfried's theme that I'm pretty sure John Williams stole note-for-note for the scene where Luke Skywalker walks out of the family home on Tattooine and looks at the double suns on the horizon. In general John Williams used leitmotifs in a very Wagnerian way in the Star Wars scores. The other familiar notes I spotted were in the music for the dragon, bits of which were borrowed by Max Steiner for King Kong (1933). Very appropriate, too, because Fafner is an intelligent, feeling monster, just like Kong.

I'm really having a hard time with a lot of the vocal lines in Wagner. Twice now I've gone home after seeing one of these operas and listened to a bit of Schoenberg's Gurre-lieder, and the orchestral music sounds very similar but I far prefer Schoenberg's vocal music. I find Wagner's vocal music very stentorian and declamatory, and it wears me out. I've also been thinking I need to listen to Mozart's The Magic Flute again, because it's another German-language opera that's a fantasy with ritual overtones, yet I remember the vocal music being much more beautiful. From what I've read, Wagner was trying to move away from the more Italianate tradition of opera, unlike Mozart. Wagner apparently found traditional opera too feminine. After a major dose of heroic masculinity in Siegfried (in which even the one female character, Brünnhilde, is male-identified and has her very own phallic spear), I say bring on the feminine. Give me Susanna matching wits with the wily Figaro in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro.

Okay, I'm going on and on here, but I also wanted to say something about the Ring experience as a whole so far. I mentioned the ritual aspect. In some ways it feels like a hazing! It's an ordeal that bonds us all together in our devotion of time and attention and aching asses to this damned thing. (I spent seven hours at the opera house yesterday! I feel like I've been living there the past few days.) People are way into the communal aspect, and it feels very fannish in many ways. It feels like we're at a convention. There are silly costumes and T-shirts with funny in-jokes! One of the T-shirts they're selling says Gotterdammitslong. I may have to get one of those just to show the world that I've been initiated into the tribe.

Also, other people are loving these performances. Huge applause last night for Stefan Vinke, who played Siegfried, and also for Greer Grimsley as Wotan and Dennis Petersen as Mime. People are having a great time, although our numbers last night were diminished compared to the first two nights. Some heroes have fallen by the wayside, alas. No doubt they are drinking martinis in Valhalla even now.



( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 31st, 2013 08:05 pm (UTC)

I always thought Siegfried was kind of a jerk (and perhaps meant to be a warning against inbreeding).

Thanks for your review!
Jul. 31st, 2013 08:13 pm (UTC)
Okay, one of the things I liked about Die Walküre was the weird incest angle. Reminded me of Luke and Leia, except there it was just a coy head-fake. Wagner plunged right into those taboo waters, although he has other characters disapprove of it. (Fricka, as I recall.)

Jul. 31st, 2013 09:15 pm (UTC)
Fricka is the only character in the entire saga with any brains at all.
Jul. 31st, 2013 08:19 pm (UTC)
Nice write up!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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