Natalie Dessay's Wood Bird is charmingly forthright, and Violeta Urmana makes a...
John Armstrong 2002
Barely ten seconds into this disc, something fantastic happens: a tenor voice rings out over the orchestra so thrillingly that it sends a shiver up the spine. It's Siegfried, producing a fiery torrent of sound that seems to be the oral equivalent of the molten steel he's fashioning into a sword in the dwarf Mime's forge.
Placido Domingo hasn't performed the role on stage, but we have had a tantalising glimpse of his Siegfried on cd before, in a disc of Wagner love duets he made for EMI a couple of years ago with Deborah Voigt. I remember marvelling at the time at just how superbly produced this famous voice seemed to be: full, even and very, very beautiful even at full Wagnerian intensity - a strain which causes younger, apparently stronger heldentenors to lose their lyrical gifts and heave their lungs out.
Brilliance, experience and intelligence...we know that's always likely to be a winning combination, and now that Domingo's given us what amounts to the best-of-the-rest of Siegfried, from the last two Ring operas, I'm delighted and astonished to be saying I'd rather listen to his recordings of these bleeding chunks of the role than most of the famous tenors who've proved themselves as Siegfried on stage. There's that burnished beauty, the steely strength, and an animal power that all adds up to such a heroic sound I can easily convince myself it's exactly what Wagner meant.
There'll be those who carp that Domingo's German isn't idiomatic: let them. Musically this more than compensates for any such concerns...and that's not just down to Domingo, of course. David Cangelosi's Mime is a malevolent presence without descending into caricature; Natalie Dessay's Wood Bird is charmingly forthright, and Violeta Urmana makes a younger, sexier Brünnhilde than you may be used to hearing - no wonder Siegfried's smitten.
Most important of all is the Royal Opera House Orchestra conducted by Antonio Pappano, underpinning everything with such easy flexibility and surefootedness the singers' lives must have been made immeasurably easier. Pappano knows how to help the voices ring out, and then he allows the orchestra to do the same, and it's all been vividly captured by the engineers.
True, it's still bleeding chunks of Wagner, but it makes narrative sense, and the excerpts are long enough to really allow you, and Domingo, to get under Siegfried's skin.
Domingo's astonishing: in his 60's yet still able to produce sounds like these after four decades on the international opera circuit; he may never become Siegfried in the opera house, but what a privilege to have heard him on disc; give Domingo's Siegfried a hero's welcome.
Andrew McGregor - presenter of CD Review on Radio 3