Ernest Reyer -Sigurd (1884)

I am not fond of late Wagner. Early Wagner I can tolerate up to a point, but Sigurd, which is a French version of Gotterdammerung, is neither. Rather, it more closely resembles Berlioz in musical form, and the influence of Les Troyens should not be ruled out. Although Sigurd is based on the same story as Wagner’s Ring Cycle, it is somewhat more human, and less mythic. It is long, nearly three hours, but it tells the story in a very 19th century French way, without intervention from Norse gods or even that much magic (although there is a love potion, Valkyries, goblins, and Norns). It has been recorded complete at least three times, including one video version which is available in four parts on youtube. On review here is a 1973 studio recording.

Sigurd-Opera in 4 Acts and 9 tableaux (177 minutes)

The libretto is at:

http://www./archive.org/stream/sigurdoperaquatr00reye#page/60/mode/2up

The score is available in several version at the Petrucci Music Library at imslp.org, give it a quick google search.

ALSO: There is a good article on this opera by Reyer in comparison to Wagner’s opera at: http://www.jmucci.com/critic/sigurdfried.html

The PLOT: Sort of the same as Wagner’s Gotterdammerung, but different, some episodes are more condensed, others expanded upon, plus some Icelanders not found in Wagner. Musically think a combination of Berlioz’s Les Troyens and Massenet’s Esclarmonde but with Siegfried and Brunhilde. Think of it as the French Ring Cycle, but a LOT shorter.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_tXfvnPmOE&t=95s

Act 1: The Great Hall of Gunther’s Castle in Worms. (48:35 minutes)

5 & 11: After a very brief prelude, we have a stately chorus of Burgundian women, sort of reminds me of Troyens, but it isn’t long enough. Hilda thinks about Sigurd to an interesting clarinet melody *, but again it doesn’t last long enough. A lot of brooding and agitation in the music as she goes into her dream about a kite that is torn to pieces by an eagle and she wants to swear off love forever. The women’s chorus returns with the Troyen-like theme as they leave *.

15: Uta tells Hilda about this love potion she has that can make Sigurd fall in love with her *.

18 & 26: Gunther returns with his court to an agreeable march tune * and we are now in the presence of ambassadors from Attila the Hun, one Rudiger is important to the plot, otherwise this is just a set up sequence. Gunther decides that he wants to marry Brunhilde, who is asleep in a ring of fire in Iceland (a point is made of her location), placed there by Odin. This is followed by an interesting chorus *. Hagan then explains all of this.

30, 33, 35: Now something really good, a lovely male quintet “Prince du Rhin” **, following into a male chorus that greets Hilda as she returns with Uta to the Hall **. Some really nice male singing here, watch for Irnfrit’s tenor bit flowing into a brief duet with Rudiger **.

37 & 39: Sigurd’s arrival **, could be Lohengrin, and at first the Burgundians don’t like him, but he reveals his identity to great fanfare **.

40: Gunther is impressed at least and they swear eternal brotherhood **.

43, 45, 47: Hilda offers Sigurd the love potion *, Rudiger gives Hilda a bracelet from Attila which will eventually matter dramatically as the potion takes effect on Sigurd, who decides that he will bring Brunhilde to be Gunther’s bride *. A good company ensemble ends the act, lead by Sigurd and Gunther, something between * and **.

ACT 2: (Four tableaux, 47 minutes)

Scene 1: A temple to Freja in a sacred forest on the coast of Iceland. (Running time: 23 minutes )

0 & 13: An exciting opening chorus of Icelanders and their priests. The High Priest has a rather endearingly holy aria to Freja, followed by a reprisal of the chorus. Sigurd, Gunther and Hagan sing of Brunhilde from a distance, they come on and are instantly attacked by the High Priest who asks who they are, what they are doing, and how they have the audacity to come here. When they explain that they search for Brunhilde, the High Priest explains that only the one most pure man can have her. Sigurd ** realizes that only he is worthy enough to have Brunhilde and vows to Gunther that she will be given to him as a virgin and he will remain fully armoured, including his visor, at all times. The High Priest tells Gunther and Hagan that they must go back home. If Sigurd is successful the gods will spirit him and Brunhilde to the Rhine and back to Worms. The scene is a constant **.

Scene 2: A gloomy plain, a lake with trees near by (Running Time 13 minutes).

24: The music rolls directly into the next scene. Sigurd has time to think and ponder, Hilda mostly, in a very nice aria ** before blowing his horn and summoning the spirits.

28: Sigurd sees the three Norns, they are washing his burial shroud. A bit of terror **, sinister.

32: Suddenly a jolly chorus of supernatural elves *, goes into a much more dramatic turn when Sigurd manages to escape as they try to push him into the lake. One of the elves steals his horn and runs off with it. He combats the beings.

Scenes 3 & 4: The Fire Palace and a very brief Pantomime in which Brunhilda’s bed turns into a ship and carries her and Sigurd away to the Rhine river as the Valkyries watch on. (Running Time 11 minutes)

36: Sigurd is victorious, and tells us so in a lovely aria **, watch especially for the end before he kisses Brunhilda.

38: Brunhilda greets the day, the earth, and Sigurd as her champion in an aria of great splendour, and eight minutes ***.

46: Sigurd places his sword between himself and Brunhilda in fulfillment of his promise to Gunther. The bed on which Brunhilda has now gone back to sleep then turns into a ship and sails away to the Rhine in a brief but effective miniature symphony **.

Act 3 (Running Time: 34 minutes)

Scene 1: A Garden in Gunther’s Castle. (20:30 minutes)

0: A brief brooding prelude flows immediately into a invisible chorus that wakes Gunther as to Sigurd’s return. He awaits Brunhilda and Sigurd in a good aria *.

4: Sigurd arrives triumphant with the sleeping Brunhilda, he expects his award soon *.

7 & 17: Gunther gazes at Brunhilda’s beauty. Look out for the chorus that follows before Brunhilda responds to Gunther and is at first not impressed. There is a series of good tunes here in the strings and woodwinds **. The numbers gets into a bumpy accompaniment. Gunther reveals that he is the king of the Burgundians and now Brunhilda is a bit more into the situation, a very lovely number **, almost but not quite three.

{NOTE: The libretto includes two sequences in which Hilda and Uta come on but which are not including here in the recording, the first to spy on the love duet, the second to express their mutually exclusive reactions: Hilda is overjoyed and excited that Sigurd has returned but Uta gives a prophecy of impending doom, this ends the first tableau.}

Scene 2: A large terrace in front of Gunther’s palace.

21: This is possibly the most “Dutchman” sounding the score will become, that horn (!) leading into a great chorus of labourers, hunters, woodcutters, women and children **.

24: Hagan announces the immediate wedding of Gunther to Brunhilda, followed a very jovial chorus, Brunhilda and Gunther await as a boat comes to take them to the other side of the river for their wedding ceremony **. Sigurd arrives demanding Hilda’s hand in marriage as his reward for bringing Brunhilda to Gunther. Hilda joyously consents and Sigurd asks Brunhilda to join his hand to Hilda’s. Sigurd’s hand burns from the touch of Brunhilda’s hand. Gunther takes it as a good sign, Uta knows it is a sign of total doom.

33: Good chorus with Uta declaring the terrible fate that is about to fall upon everyone **, a triumphal end.

Act 4:  (Running Time 47:30)

Scene: A terrace

0: The finale act starts with brief orchestral doom and a lovely female bridal chorus *. Brunhilda is afflicted by some mysterious illness. A nice female chorus follows.

5: Brunhilda knows she loves Sigurd, not Gunther, in a passionate aria **. She is very sad, and wants a sort of nihilistic nothingness to happen to her.

10: Hilda arrives rather sweetly *, but then reveals to Brunhilda that in fact it was Sigurd and not her brother Gunther who rescued her from the fire palace, presenting Brunhilda’s virginity belt that she had given to Sigurd. The two women have come to a mutual understanding and Brunhilda realizes that Sigurd is under a spell, otherwise he would be in love wit her and not Hilda **.

20: After Brunhilda calls Gunther out as a liar and that either he or Sigurd must die by sunrise because she is destined by the gods to love Sigurd, Hilda reveals to Gunther and Hagan that she has told Brunhilda the truth. Hagan drags her away.

22: Hagan has a nice melody as he tells Gunther to off Sigurd *.

24: Sigurd comes on and (overheard by Gunther and Hagan) starts to remember his relationship to Brunhilda *** in a romance that just flies away.

28, 32, 35: Brunhilda returns with a counter-potion for Sigurd, she gives it to him in a gorgeous aria *** that turns into a duet with Sigurd ***.  Much of the rest starts to become anti-climatic in comparison until a reprisal a Sigurd decides to fight Gunther fairly for Brunhilda***.

37: The 10 minute play out starts with a brief chorus, followed by Gunther secretly following Sigurd to meet and kill him. Brunhilda is left alone with Hilda, begging her to help her find Sigurd and Gunther (she already knows Sigurd is dying). Hilda refuses because she would rather have Sigurd dead than in the arms of another woman. There is a menacing little chorus about how beautiful the stars are in the night sky **, the orchestral introduces the slaying quietly then….

40: The chorus goes crazy, Sigurd returns mortally wounded asking to see Brunhilda one last time ***. She declares that she will die with him. The chorus goes mad again. Gunther returns vowing to punish Sigurd’s murderer, Hilda dramatically calls him out, HE is the killer. Hilda goes into force-8/9 revenge mode, she will make sure that Attila avenges her Sigurd. Hagan attempts to kill her but Gunther stops him. Hilda hands her bracelet from Attila to Uta and tells her to return to sending, he will get the message.

46: The Chorus does its nut and then the Apotheosis of Sigurd and Brunhilda *** with Attila avenging them below.

This was a rather interesting experience. I like this opera and it has some great moments, especially in act four and double especially for Brunhilda. There are some odd issues, like the fact that Hilda and Brunhilda are not just rivals for Sigurd but also for the audience; just which one of them really is the leading lady? In its own way it does stand up well in comparison to Gotterdammerung, albeit the ending is an Apotheosis and not an Apocalypse. The action is much tighter (none of the acts exceeds 50 minutes) and actually it could make a claim for being close to what Wagner originally intended for Siegfried’s Tod. If it does resemble Wagner in anyway, Reyer’s score is more like Lohengrin, given that it was written in the early to mid 1860s and thus finished nearly two decades before its premiere (except for the fourth act which was written around 1884), this does make some sense. However, Reyer is not trying to imitate Wagner here, if anything he is imitating Berlioz’s Les Troyens, Meyerbeer, and the early operas of Gounod. Sigurd is a grand opera, and it is a French work through and through, and if not for its close similarity to a certain Wagnerian monster work would probably be better known outside of France, where at least it has the concession prize of being the “French Ring Cycle”. The characters are in many ways more believable and human than Wagner’s and there is no ring cursed by a wicked power-hunger dwarf who has foresworn love, just a girl with a love potion she got from her nurse who just happens to be popular with Attila the Hun. Sigurd is not the idiot Siegfried is, nor is he has murderous. Gunther is a man controlled by his passion and desire for Brunhilda, and Hagan is a little, just a little, less evil. Brunhilda herself is a bit more cuddly as well, and Reyer in his own way makes her very appealing to the audience. Apart from that love potion and the fanciful second act set in Iceland with its high priest of Freja, Norns, goblins, elves and Valkyries and beds that turn into gondolas, those are basically all the supernatural elements this version contains, and it needs to be presented more often. I say an A- for Sigurd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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