Review: The Canadian Opera Company Presents Richard Wagner’s ‘Siegfried’ ( January 23 – February 14, 2016)

Canadian Opera Company audiences will experience the heights of heroism and passion this winter when the third instalment of Richard Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle, Siegfried, returns to the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Siegfried’s heroic journey reveals the drives and desires of gods and mortals in a story of greed, fear and self-discovery, told through a powerful and evocative score, and is brought to life in a critically acclaimed production by renowned Canadian director François Girard and celebrated Toronto-born designer Michael Levine, conducted by COC Music Director Johannes Debus. Siegfried runs for seven performances on January 23, 27, 30, February, 2, 5, 11 and 14, 2016.

Wagner’s Ring Cycle is commonly described as “the Everest of opera.” The largest work in the history of Western music, the Ring Cycle includes four operas, Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, comprising approximately 16 hours of some of the most complex and riveting music in the operatic repertoire. Siegfried features some of the greatest music in the whole Ring Cycle, as the titular hero slays a dragon, confronts the gods, and braves a ring of fire in his journey to save the sleep-enchanted Valkyrie, Brünnhilde.

Siegfried is the ultimate story of a hero’s path to self-discovery. Drawing inspiration from Siegfried’s internal battles and struggle for self-understanding, Girard and Levine have conceived a work that reflects a memoryscape and a psychological fairy-tale. Lighting is by Dora Award-winning designer David Finn, and award-winning Canadian Donna Feore joins the creative team as the choreographer.

Johannes Debus conducts his first Siegfried with the COC. With this production, he leads the 106-piece COC Orchestra through an electrifying score of unparalleled musical storytelling: from Siegfried’s comic Forging Song in Act I to the lyrical forest murmurs in Act II to one of Wagner’s most blissful duets in Act III when Brünnhilde awakes from her sleep and declares her love for Siegfried.

In German tenor Stefan Vinke the COC has one of the finest Siegfrieds in the world. Described as “huge of voice, unflagging of stamina, imaginative and energetic on the stage” (Seattle Times), Vinke belongs to an elite group of tenors who consistently sing the complete dramatic repertoire of Richard Wagner. Few roles in opera are more daunting than Siegfried with many saying it is almost impossible to sing. It demands a tenor to scale extreme vocal heights, possess unwavering stamina in a marathon opera running 240 minutes, and demonstrate a nuanced reading of one of opera’s most introspective characters. Vinke makes his Canadian debut in this legendary role.

Vinke is equally matched by the powerhouse American soprano Christine Goerke, heralded for her “gale-force power and sheen” (Wall Street Journal). She returns to the COC as the mighty Valkyrie Brünnhilde; her company debut in 2015’s Die Walküre met with unabashed critical and popular acclaim as her “gleaming tones sliced through the glittering orchestra” (New York Times) and showing “she possess[ed] everything a great Brünnhilde must have: dignity, stature, and a voice of molten gold” (Toronto Star).

Austrian Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, considered one of the most important character tenors on the operatic world stage, makes his Canadian debut as the sly Nibelung-dwarf Mime, who raised Siegfried from birth and plans to use the young hero to secure the famed ring for himself. Acclaimed British baritone Christopher Purves makes his COC debut as Mime’s brother Alberich, whose theft of the Rhinegold set in motion the Ring Cycle’s epic chain of events.

American contralto Meredith Arwady, who made her COC debut as Death in 2011’s The Nightingale and Other Short Fables at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, now brings her rich vocal intensity and captivating stage presence to the COC as the Earth Goddess, Erda. Acclaimed American bass-baritone Alan Held, one of the finest singer-actors on the stage today, was last heard as Balstrode in 2013’s Peter Grimes and returns to the COC as Wotan/The Wanderer.

Canadian bass Phillip Ens, most recently at the COC as Sparafucile in 2011’s Rigoletto, reprises the role of Fafner the dragon, the current possessor of the Rhinegold, which he sang for the company in 2005 and 2006. COC Ensemble Studio graduate soprano Jacqueline Woodley, last heard with the company as Papagena in 2011’s Ensemble Studio performance of The Magic Flute, is the Forest Bird who helps Siegfried locate Fafner’s treasure and see through Mime’s deceitful ways. Actor George Molnar is the Bear, a silent role created by Girard.

Siegfried is sung in German with English SURTITLESTM. The opera was last performed by the COC in 2006 at the opening of the Four Seasons Centre as part of the first Canadian production of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle. The COC premiered the Girard-directed Siegfried in 2005, having previously presented Siegfried in 1972.

TICKET INFORMATION

Single tickets for Siegfried range from $60 – $435 and are available online at coc.ca, by calling 416-363-8231, or in person at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts Box Office (145 Queen St. W.). For more information on specially priced tickets available to young people under the age of 15, standing room, Opera Under 30 presented by TD Bank Group, student groups and rush seating, visit coc.ca.

Review:

The Canadian Opera Company is on fire. Seriously.  It’s rare that you can get lost in an opera that is so grandiose that it takes us on a journey that is transformational.  There is no place like home, but the Canadian Opera Company’s take on Wagner’s ‘Siegfried’ could be showcased in a historic Opera theatre overseas with its grand intention.  The Canadian Opera Company’s take on Wagner’s ‘Siegfried’ is bold, luxe and is supreme perfection.

Wagner’s version of opera time was observed (the quintessential balance of music of action and music of reflection). The audience were also in for a true treat as we witnessed the beautiful intermixing of modern dance, the use of bodies as texture and standing art complimented the operatic ‘power house’ performances from the likes of Stefan Vinke, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, Alan Held, Jacqueline Woodley and Christine Goerke.  I witnessed the enthusiasm of audience members rooting for both Vinke and Goerke as we queued outside the gorgeous Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts like we were waiting for the lads from One Direction or Justin Bieber – albeit with a bit more class and prestige.

Richard Wagner’s ‘Siegfried’ will challenge you. It is certainly not for the faint of heart.  It is hard to sit still most days without the itch to check our phones, fidget, put the kettle on or better yet take a nap.  Wagner’s ‘Siegfried’ will test you.  It will also propel you to stop, think and reflect on the essence of  ‘Siegfried’s’ score, the talented voices, the daring and postmodern staging with multiple views and the artistry from stage performers that Toronto is ready to inhale.

Five hours is a wonderful testament in rumination within Wagner’s aesthetic. Wagner’s music is slow and encourages you to taste moments from your own past. Our lost relatives, robust traumas, family histories, lifestyle hiccups, broken relationships are all seen alongside Siegfried’s in its broken fragments above his head as he sits (grounded) on a larger than life tree stump. There’s no escaping the solitude, the introspection and the draw to nature within Siegfried’s and our own journey.

Wagner’s ‘Siegfried’ scenes could have been out of Tolkien or Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The magical and perfectly timed humorous light and dark themed exchanges between Siegfried and the Mime broke up the intensity of the performance in between intermissions.  It also provided the viewer a wonderful testament to how Wagner steadily folded operatic art into our evening and as a takeaway gift.

Stefan Vinke is a true athlete in the role of Siegfried.   Indeed “Huge of voce, unflagging of stamina, imaginative and energetic on the stage” as stated by the ‘Seattle Times’.  For 240 minutes, Vinke looked strong and powerful at the helm of his performances just as he did in the beginning.

Jacqueline Woodley as the woodland fairy dispersed a quiet but rolling perseverance throughout the evening. Her gold and sweets tones were the perfect sweet to Siegfried’s sour.

Christine Goerke played Brünnhilde like an ultimate fighter. UFC has nothing on her.  There is no other epic love story comparable when Siegfried and Brünnhilde are on stage.  Goerke and Vinke blew away all comparable love stories out of the water.  Together, they hail “light-bringing love, and laughing death.”  We are lucky to have both Vinke and Goerke in Toronto to demonstrate to audiences how Wagner should be done.  Now that they have set the bar so high – we will be hard pressed to crumble as hard at Opera’s feet with other productions as we did taking them in during their ‘Siegfried’ flight.

If you are a Wagner devotee, ‘Siegfried’ as performed by the Canadian Opera Company will delight, and elevate you. If you are a newbie – get ready to have your body go through an emotional and physical transformation.  Pop some snacks into your purse, take a swig or two of your favourite coffee and get ready to be educated with opera’s best of the best.

http://www.coc.ca/

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