Siegfried in Seattle

There are certain sensations that must be deemed irrational by even the most tolerant of men. One of them is wanting to hear a performance of Siegfried all over again, right after you have spent five hours of a Thursday evening with it. Irrational to be sure, but in the case of the August 15, 2013 performance of Siegfried at the Seattle Opera, very real. Live performances do not, sad to say, come with a da capo button.

Not only was this desire for an immediate repeat irrational, it was in my experience unprecedented. And for the cynics who will glibly assert that this must have something to do with Hempfest 2013 that has just started in Seattle, the events are unrelated, as a urine toxicology screen will affirm.

Speight Jenkins, the Seattle Opera's General Director, has made no secret that he has waited 60 years for a Siegfried like this. Since I saw my first Der Ring des Nibelungen in 1991, I have only waited 22 years for a Siegfried like this. For the first time ever, I was literally slack-jawed at the end of Act One, and uncomprehendingly giddy by the end of Act Three.

I have never heard heldentenor, Stefan Vinke before, and the odds are that you haven't either. Make every effort to remedy that, just as soon as you can. He has an uncommonly clear, powerful, clarion voice which is in and of itself cause for wild cheering. But he also sings the soft, lyrical passages of Siegfried's music with elegance and taste. That his stage movements were not laughable in any particular, suggests that he takes direction well. So he is handsome, he moves believably and he sings better than any heldentenor I have heard in 30 (or so) years. When I tell you that his extended third act duet with Alwyn Mellor was simply transporting, I am not being hyperbolic.

Ms. Mellor's Brünnhilde, of course, is neither seen nor heard until Siegfried's final scene, but from the moment she arises from her slumber, she sings like the daughter of a god and moves like a teenager in full hormonal bloom. This is a scene that cannot work intellectually, but the emotional wallop it packed on August 15, 2013 was without precedent in my experience.

Greer Grimsley's Wanderer was as real and as sympathetic as I have ever seen. His first act scene with Dennis Petersen's Mime, instead of being cruel and/or absurd was fascinating, as the game of cat and mouse (we know which was the mouse) was played out. Vocally, Grimsley has never sounded more secure or more subtle in his vocal shading. Mime is not, of course, a likeable character, but Petersen avoided the common error of making him loathsome. Richard Paul Fink's Alberich continued to impress, and Daniel Sumegi was a suitably menacing Fafner.

Unhappily, Lucille Beer, the evening's Erda, shares a last name with the singularly most incompetent carpenter I ever knew, and I cannot help but associate it with ill-fitted doors and poorly aligned joints. Although Ms. Beer had the notes, her singing was essentially colorless; accurate, but colorless. Jennifer Zetlan's Forest Bird was very finely rendered.

It is impossible for me to over-praise Stephen Wadsworth's direction. Siegfried is many things, but an inherently interesting story and high-quality drama it is not. To keep things interesting betokens professional skill; to make them emotionally involving tells us that a man of the theater to his fingertips is at work. The fact that he had singers to work with who are also vastly better than average actors certainly helped, and so much of what I saw last night differed from what I remember from four years ago that I have to assume Wadsworth re-thought the production anew given a better acting cast.

Although I understand that the "powers that be" at the Seattle Opera are in love with Asher Fisch's conducting, I am not. I don't dislike it by any means, but I freely confess that I am a tough grader insofar as the Ring is concerned. Fisch handled the first and second acts in top-notch fashion, and quibbles would be just that: quibbles. But he loosed the reins in the last act, causing things to sag perceptibly, which continued until such time as Siegfried awakened Brünnhilde and things caught fire again (pun disclaimed).

I affirm that I have never seen a more compelling or satisfying Siegfried or a more satisfying and compelling Siegfried. Brilliantly cast, brilliantly staged, sort of makes a trip across the continental U.S.A. all worthwhile.