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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

DVD Review: Bringing Up Knucklehead

The Copenhagen Ring continues with Siegfried.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
(This is the third installment in our ongoing review of the Copenhagen Ring Cycle, directed by Kaspar Bech Holten, performed by the Royal Danish Opera conducted by Michael Schønwandt. Read the reviews of Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, also on Superconductor.)

Chalk talk: Siegfried (Stig Andersen, right) explains genetics to Mime (Bengt-Ola Morgny.)
Photo by Martin Renne © 2006 Royal Danish Opera/Universal Classics.
This third opera is the "light" chapter in Wagner's mythological drama. But Siegfried presents the director with a mighty set of challenges. It is to Mr. Holten's credit that he ignores them, re-imagining the opera as a situation comedy. This approach is clear from the set designs for Mime's cave: a low-rent townhouse complete with an attic bedroom for the restless young hero, with comic books, posters, and a guitar on the wall.

Mime (Bengt-Ola Morgny) and Alberich (Sten Byriel) picnic at Fafner's cave.
Photo by Martin Renne © 2006 Royal Danish Opera/Universal Classics.
Mime (Bengt-Ola Morgny) is a picture of creepy domesticity, a bachelor who does not want this brat in his house. Stig Andersen is powerful, unsubtle but generally pleasant of tone as Siegfried, perhaps a good fit for conductor Michael Schønwandt's chamber music approach to the score. The Wanderer (James Johnson) drops by for tea without his spear. In the Riddle Scene, he threatens Mime with a kitchen knife, the same one that he used to remove Alberich's arm with in Rheingold.
Fafner's "Neidhole" cave is just that--a hole, with a loudspeaker mounted outside for the fearsome voice of the dragon. Fafner himself is in a bunker, seated at a control panel. Siegfried impetuously stabs him in the back. What's even more interesting is what's outside the cave. Alberich (Sten Byriel) is now a one-armed homeless man. He holds his nocturnal vigil accompanied by a sulky, silent teenager who's got to be Hagen. When the Wanderer appears, he stashes the kid out of sight. And Susanne Resmark acts better than she sings, playing a bedridden Erda dying of cancer.
"Gimme your denim jacket." The Wanderer (James Johnson) mugs Siegfried
(Stig Andersen) on his way to the Valkyrie rock.
Photo by Martin Renne © 2006 Royal Danish Opera/Universal Classics.
The bass-baritone James Johnson is not a Wotan of the first rank. But the slightly lower role of the Wanderer is good fit for the American baritone. He is excellent in the riddle scene and facing off with the one-armed Alberich. In another change, the God literally quits--breaking his own spear over his knee before Siegfried can fight him. The look of confusion on the young hero's face is the best moment in the opera.

It is a credit to Mr. Andersen that he brings enough power to get through the final duet with Iréne Theoren's Brunnhilde. When he wakes her up, he dodges out of sight--showing that his character has finally learned fear! Ms. Theoren sings a capable "Heil dir Sonne", and her high-lying dramatic instrument is enough voice for this short but challenging part. Her "Ewig war ich" is nicely sung but a little bland. However, she is better in the final pages, hitting those three tricky high Cs and the "Hojotoho!" before the final bars.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.