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Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 23. September 24, 1969

Wagner's Dark Horse Opera

Wagner's Dark Horse Opera

The third opera in the Ring and what could almost be described as the dark horse of Wagner opera, is Siegfried. It differs from the other Ring operas, and indeed all the rest of Wagner's operas in that the music, and cast, is almost entirely masculine. The brass instruments have a field day, with most of the meaty music, while the strings are there manily to provide the background music and filler. Naturally Wagner realised the potentially boring nature of four hours of such music, and it is broken into readily digestible fragments by the most beautifully light and airy interludes, such as "forest murmurs".

Siegfried is a long opera to listen to, yet when it is over and the last notes of the fantastic love duet with which it finishes have died away, one sits dumbfounded in silence, and the first thing one thinks of, is how so much could possibly have been fitted into a mere four hours, and yet not sound hurried.

The cast of Siegfried shows just how much care Decca took to ensure that this first recording of Siegfried would be the best possible in this generation of artists at least.

Wolfgang Windgassen appears in the title role. Windgassen is acknowledged as the greatest Siegfried of post war Wagner, and here, because there are no long tiring performances that required him to conserve his voice, and because of a lifelong ambition of Windgassen's to record his Siegfried, this recording is regarded as possibly his greatest performance, and the same for the other singers.

Hans Hotter as Wotan, Birgit Nilsson as Brunnhilde, Gustav Neidlinger as Alberich all world famous in these roles and regarded as the foremost in them. Gerhard Stolze as Mime, and perhaps the most surprising bit of casting of all, Joan Sutherland as the Woodbird, a part she hasn't sung since she was an unknown. Marga Hoffgen sings Erda, a part that was to have been sung by Kirsten Flagstad, who was prevented by her illness (she died of cancer on the same day that Siegfried was finished).

The cycle continues with George Solti, conducting the Vienna Philharmonic.

As I said above quite a lot happens in Siegfried and it's rather hard to precis the synopsis to a short yet succinct form. Nevertheless, I shall attempt the immence task of keeping it short, and yet interesting.

Act 1: In a deep forest Mime, the nibelung brother of Alberich, has a cave, here for twenty years he has been rearing Siegfried, for the purpose of regaining the ring. The scene opens with Mime at his forge. Siegfried enters chasing a bear, which he promptly sets upon Mime. Mime has a full time occupation forging swords for Siegfried, which Siegfried promptly smashes on the anvil the moment he gets home. When Mime assures Siegfried that the latest sword is ready. Siegfried throws out the bear, and taking up the sword he smashes it. Now Siegfried has long hated Mime but wishes to learn more about his parents, (he doesn't believe Mime's story about the revolting little dwarf being Siegried's mother and father). Finally he gets the true story by the ready standby method of throttling Mime. The truth is that the pregnant Sieglinde had come to Mime's cave in a thunderstorm and there had given birth to Siegfried, then giving Mime the fagments of a sword she had perished of pain and fatigue. Of Siegfried's father Mime knew nothing. Siegfried bounds out onto the forest joyously after ordering Mime to restore the sword, but Mime is unable to repair it.

Then there comes to the cave an old man Wotan in his disguise as the Wanderer. He informs Mime that He who is without fear will regain the ring and forge the sword, this self same fellow will kill Mime. Which rather upsets the poor blighted mannikin. For among the many things that he has been unable to teach Siegfried (such as love for Mime) is the emotion of fear. This he intends to correct and a plan evolves in his evil mind, this we will see later.

Siegfried returns and demands the sword, which of course Mime has not been able to forge. So Siegfried forges it, throughout which scene we hear the magnificently rich Forging Song. As a climax to the song, and act Siegfried cleaves the anvil in half with the repaired sword crying out its name "Nothung Nothung Neid-Liches Schwert". With a fearful crash of rending metal and absolute chaos in the orchestra Act I comes to its end.

Act 2: begins outside a cave deep in that same forest. We can tell by the motive played on a huge bass drum and trombones that this is Fafner's caver, but Fafner by means of the magic tarnhelm has turned himself into a dragon. Alberich is keeping watch, futility hoping to regain his ring. Wotan appears and Alberich recognising him accuses him of interfering once again, This Wotan has no intentions of doing, and he even offers to ask Fafner to give the ring to Alberich, which Fafner of course refuses to do. Wotan leaves and Alberich hides as Siegfried and Mime enter. Mime's scheme is to have Siegfried slay the dragon, and then poison Siegfried, thus gaining the ring for himself. He goes away, to prepare a poisonous broth, leaving Siegfried alone in the forest (here begin the Forest Murmurs). Siegfried hears a little woodbird and tries to imitate its call on a reed but he grows impatient, and flinging away the instrument he blows a lusty call on his hunting horn. Fafner awakes and comes out of his cave to do battle. He is, of course, killed by our hero, and Siegfried, scalded on the hand by Fafner boiling blood, puts his hand to his mouth, and in a trice he can understand the woodbird, it tells him of the treasure to be had inside the cave, and he goes in to see his booty. Mine hurries forward from hiding to get the ring, but is prevented by Alberich. They waste time arguing, until the noise of the re-emerging Siegfried causes Alberich to hide. Mime is confident, his plan is going well, but he has reckoned without the woodbird, which warns Siegfried of his treachery, and the dragons blood, which enables Siegfried to hear Mime's innermost thoughts. Thus we get a passage of conflicting statements by Mime, what he says, and what he really means. This reaches its climax when Siegfried fulfills Wotan's prophecy, and cuts Mimes head off. Alberichs laugh echoes through the forest glades. The woodbird tells Siegfried of a beautiful Warrior maiden, on a hilltop, surrounded by fire, and this talk, of new adventurers, stirs Siegfried's blood, and the act ends with Siegfried following the woodbird.

Act 3: opens with a scene gloomy and pessimistic, Wotan has sought the advice of Erda, the earth goddess, who knows all, so to speak, but she cannot help him, as there is only one way out of his dilemma, and he has already decided to take it. He announces that Siegfried is to be his heir, and he only awaits the destruction of the gods, and ' Walhalla (which caused the whole mess). But before he retires to Walhalla, he takes himself, and his spear, and accosts Siegfried at the foot of Brunnhilde's mountain. Siegfried is impatient, and after insulting Wotan, he strikes the spear with his sword, the spear shatters, and Wotan, gathering the pieces, vanishes. Siegfried reaches the top of the mountain, and passes through the flames fearlessly. (Mime's plan didn't completely work.) There he finds a warrior, whom he thinks is unconscious, but upon removing the breastplace, and percieving the full bosoms of the sleeping Valkyrie he gasps out "Das ist kein mann" (that is no man!), and he resorts to that time honoured manner of awakening her, that is to say he kisses her. She awakens and in the following scene they declare their love for each other and as in Walkure Act 1 Wagner cuts his curtain a wee bit fine.

That is Siegfried on Decca Set 242-6, Ring 9-13 OS 25771-6 (London). The playing time is 237 mins. 25 secs, not counting for record breaks.

Wagner News On Records: This year seems to be a fantastic year for recorded Wagner operas available complete on stereo discs are—Das Rheingold (Decca (N.Z. pressing), D.G.G. (N.Z. pressing))°; Die Walkure (Decca°, D.G.G. (N.Z. pressing)) ;Siegfried (Decca°); Die Gotterdammerung (Decca°); Flying Dutchman (H.M.V.); Tristan and Isolde (Decca (N.Z. pressing to be released in Oct.).

Highlights records include: Die Gotterdammerung (Decca); Die Walkure (Decca); Tristan (D.G.G.); Flying Dutchman (Heliodor).

This Heliodor disc is an excellent introduction to Wagner opera, at $2.50-75 depending where you buy it. It is an excellent record full of excitement and superb music, and the price is such that, if you find that you have not taste for Wagner, (i.e. you have no taste), then you won't have incurred any great expense. Members of World Record Club also have access to the H.M.V. Lohengrin complete which is on the catalogue for release next March.

• Part of complete Der Ring Des Nibelung (English pressing).