In the second scene of Siegfried, the third music drama in the Ring tetralogy, Mime asks Wotan three questions.
First, he asks, What is the race which lives under the stage? And Wotan answers, Under the stage works the orchestra. Practising for weeks, never ceasing their toil, yet invisible to those on the stage, the orchestra in its myriad colours describes with its interplay of leitmotifs the past, the present, and the future. There the conductor, Phillipe Auguin, the undisputed master of the complex tracery of images and emotions played by his wonderful musicians, calls forth a vast dynamic range, but especially, wonderful pianissimi which allow both the leitmotifs in their never-ceasing dance with each other, and the singers on the stage, to be heard without effort.
He calls forth a dragon from the underworld. The tuba, played by Thomas Allely, amazes like nothing in music before. The dragon itself, which is the giant Fafner transformed by the Tarnhelm, is sung also from the underworld, boomingly, by Andrea Sivestrelli. Auguin calls forth Siegfried from the surface of the earth, and the whole brass section participates in blending his theme with the marvels he encounters in his quest for himself. He calls forth Wotan myself, from Valhalla in the clouds, who, chromatically disguised as a Wanderer, is answering Mime’s questions with the history of the world, even without the aid of a complete tenor horn section.
Then Mime asks, What is the race which lives on the stage? And Wotan answers, On the stage live those consummate artists, the singers. Each completely in their own character, they give voice to the awful wonders that they encounter on their various paths, often aided by dancers both from Opera Australia and Dancenorth.
Andreas Conrad, who plays you, Mime, negotiates the extraordinary vocal acrobatics of your part with a clean and agile tenor, and delivers your endless succession of lies with a Protean flexibility of facial expression. I, Wotan, who am sung by Daniel Sumegi, find myself more at home in my own lies as a Wanderer than in my god-like authority, which has been so deeply compromised in the previous two operas. Yet I sing with a voice as wide as a church door. Your brother Schwarz-Alberich, brooding impotently by Fafner’s cave, has only one register now: burning, thwarted ambition, which is bodied forth in the bass voice of Warwick Fyfe which is almost as vast as mine. I am staggered by Stefan Vinke’s vocal stamina. Not holding anything in reserve, chasing you around with a bear when you are trying to make him a sword, his clean, strong Heldentenor matches his clean, strong body. (Are you going to ask me, by the way, how to make that sword?) He is just as clean and strong several hours later, in the scene in which he awakens Brunnhilde from the sleep I imposed upon her.
You have not yet met Brunnhilde, although I have, in the previous opera Die Walkure. In fact you never will, as Siegfried will kill you before the third act. So you will not hear Lise Lindstrom as she awakens from being asleep (throughout Siegfried’s entire life so far), her gilt-edged soprano soaring above the race below the stage with seemingly endless lung-power. You will not watch her embody in succession: the immortal being encountering light for the first time after the darkness of sleep; the shy virgin, desiring but afraid; and the whole woman surrendering herself to the love which her role embodies.
Mime’s third question is, What is the race that lives above the stage? And Wotan answers, Above the stage live the aerial dancers. The golden woodbird, who Siegfried understands only after tasting the dragon’s blood, glides across the heavens, visible and invisible. Celeste Lazarenko lends her impossibly high soprano to its message, which is Siegfried’s own inner being discovering itself. And your brother knew the Rhienmaidens, floating in the Rhine as three dancers, and enchantingly sung by Lorina Gore, Jane Ede, and Dominica Matthews, in an opera that has been and one that is to come.
Above the stage also, crucially, lives Leigh Sachwitz's digital projection. As the cycle of operas progresses from the supernatural to the natural, so the projection begins to be less abstract and more representational. The three levels of existence about which you, Mime, are questioning me, resemble various aspects of a Blade-runner 2049 city – you can see them now – endless tenements, bourgeois apartments, and towering Trump-like skyscrapers. The blue stars of Siegfried’s dreams becomes the trees of the forest outside Fafner’s cave. The dragon occupies the entire space above the stage with its spiky green and gold body, its gaping mouth and its glowing eyes. The fire surrounding Brunnhilde asleep on her rock envelopes the audience as well as the stage. And yet there is more magic than representation about these dancing images. How Schopenhauer would have loved it – more will than representation.
And now, Mime, since you have nor asked me the one thing you want to know, I will ask you three questions. Your life depends upon your answers. My last question is, Who will forge the sword for Siegfried to kill the dragon?
(O O O O that Wagneherian rag. It’s so elegant, so intelligent…)
Opera Australia presents
Director Chen Shi-Zheng
Venue: Lyric Theatre, QPAC, Brisbane QLD
Dates: 5, 12, 19 December 2023
Part of the Brisbane Ring Cycle – visit the Opera Australia website for full details»