We went to see latest instalment of the Met’s new Production of Wagner’s Ring – this time Siegfried – on Bonfire night. For those who are not too sure what’s going on in Siegfried, the third and second to last opera in Der Ring des Niebelungen, here a short recap for nervous people: young Siegfried, the incestuous child of Siegmund and Sieglinde (brother and sister who met in the previous opera Die Walküre – you could tell by the names, couldn’t you…?), is now a grumpy teenager with hero powers (after all, his grandfather is the god Wotan). The only person Siegfried knows in the world is the gnome Mime – as Siegfried’s parents didn’t survive long enough to make it into this opera: his father was killed in Die Walküre and his mother died most likely about nine months after the end of Die Walküre. Mime, not your cuddly garden gnome, is a blacksmith with a rather dubious character and the ambition to reign the world, which he hopes to the achieve by wearing a magical ring (sort of a Lord of the Rings one-ring-rules-them-all kind of ring). He has reason to believe his plan will succeed: the ring is currently in the possession of a dragon (formerly known as the giant Fafner, now turned into a dragon; this probably happened after a bad trip to the cosmetic surgeon…) and Siegfried is the only one who could kill the dragon, which he proceeds to do. Siegfried then picks up the ring and the camouflage helmet (a kind of metal mesh which makes you transform into someone or something else). Unfortunately for Mime he also kills Mime, when he finds out that Mime is ready to kill him to get to the ring. Siegfried then wakes up and comes on to Brünnhilde (who was put to sleep at the end of Die Walküre for punishment and, to stay with the incestuous theme, is his aunt). In the process he defeats his grandfather, break the spear that rules the world (sort of a law and order spear) and walks through fire. Death count: one blacksmith, one dragon/giant, one spear, probably also a bird, but we don’t know exactly.
The new production has some great cinematic effects that are projected onto the “the machine”: 45 ton, 2 towers of 26 feet (or 7,9m) holding a 26-plank-construction. The rotation of the planks and projected images onto the them create the scenery on stage. We get to the see below earth (including crawling worms), a waterfall, blowing leaves, fire and a flying bird – lovely imagery. It draws you in and speaks to our Pixar-spoiled eyes. But please: what is it with the dragon? We were presented with this (see the picture above): a rather static toothy earthworm.
I love plunging into opera stories and they have been my friends ever since I can remember. I enjoy thinking about what happens in-between operas (if they have sequels like the ring) or to characters when they walk off stage. I loved reading a book written by a lawyer/opera lover taking the villains in opera to court, treating the story as if it really happened. Some opera stories could really happen; ok, maybe not the dragons, but then again: with back-breeding going strong, who knows!
Obviously then my pet peeves in staging are inconsistency (because I’m prone to it myself) and people who do not read the text/score properly. Some scenes in opera a notoriously difficult to stage. Maybe the composer just had more vision for staging than we can physically realise, but one should think that today’s technical means should make it possible to stage scenes with dragons or those that involve forging a sword. In Siegfried, unmotivated steam rose in the sword scene (when the sword is plunged into water – I admit this is difficult, since the water is only a projected image, which, on top of everyone’s misery, disappears with the spotlight following the singer. Disturbingly you now see the steel colour of the machine, putting you back into the opera house, and losing the magic of the story.
Also, it appears that as a hero you can touch steal that has just been heated up to look read hot… ehm, realistic?! Oh, and when a singer sings something that translates to ‘How hot is it! It’s midday and the sun is high in the sky, I will sit in the shade to cool down.’ I do no wish to see someone who goes from a semi-dark point on stage into a gloomy one. Same goes for the point where someone sings ‘hail you, sun’ and we find ourselves asking if this refers to the pale object projected onto the back of the stage, which could technically also be a brighter moon, especially if the rest of the stage is gloomy. If, in a production, I go to so much trouble to match the movements of the mouth of a singer to the movements of the beak of a projected computer-animated bird (and yes, we get talking birds in this opera, talking dragons too, if you must know) – how could you brush over all those obviously incongruent details?
And the main question for all knitters in opera: when Wotan takes his shoes off during his visit to Mime, and when he then walks around on the semi-tilted machine with what appear to be grey woolly socks – where those ABS socks?? Your guess is a good as mine.