Andreas Schager’s Metropolitan Opera Debut
Andreas Schager’s Metropolitan Opera debut singing Siegfried in Wagner’s Götterdämmerung was lauded for its “heartiness and vigor” by The New York Times who also wrote a great profile of the Austrian singer that tells the unlikely story of conquering his first Wagner role.
“Mr. Schager pretty much met expectations, which is saying a lot given the paucity of tenors who can sing Siegfried. (He shares the role with Stefan Vinke through May 11.) He has a hefty voice with clarion top notes and energy galore. He began his career singing lighter repertory, and remnants of that background came through in the lyricism he brought to Siegfried’s tender moments. Of course, given the vocal demands, Mr. Schager had his share of bellowed outbursts, gravelly low passages and raw sound. His heartiness and vigor were boundless, and, like a college athlete, he scampered up and down the planks of the mechanical set that dominates Robert Lepage’s production.
In a role that can easily make Siegfried seem like some rowdy, clueless, clunky youth, he conveyed genuine romantic longing for Brünnhilde (the soprano Christine Goerke at her best). And during the long stretch of the story at the hall of powerful Gibichung family, when Siegfried — under the spell of a potion that makes him forget Brünnhilde and fall for Gutrune (the gleaming soprano Edith Haller, in her Met debut) — Mr. Schager’s vulnerable Siegfried often seems poignantly confused, with flashes of memory when he appears to know something is not right. Until a dream-come-true Siegfried arrives, Mr. Schager will do just fine.”
Siegfried, the dragon-slaying hero of Richard Wagner’s monumental “Ring” cycle, is one of the most punishing operatic parts ever written.
“Siegfried doesn’t know any fear, and I think this is the key for doing this role,” the tenor Andreas Schager, who will make his Metropolitan Opera debut in “Götterdämmerung,” the four-opera cycle’s finale, on April 27, said in a recent phone interview.
Over the past few years, this 48-year-old Austrian singer has emerged as one of the world’s leading heldentenors, singing the most challenging Wagner roles to acclaim across Europe. In endurance-test parts like Siegfried, Tannhäuser, Parsifal and Tristan, his full, ringing voice seems indefatigable. He can channel a character’s wild desperation, ardor or impetuousness with steely yet easygoing assurance.
“I don’t know anyone who can sing Siegfried and Tristan like him,” the eminent conductor Daniel Barenboim, one of Mr. Schager’s champions, said by phone. “For me, he is one of the very few real Wagner tenors today.
But his path to singing Siegfried at the Met — he also sings in “Siegfried,” the third “Ring” opera, on May 2 and another “Götterdämmerung” on May 4 — was unusual. Mr. Schager, who was born Andreas Schagerl in the small town of Rohrbach an der Gölsen, started his career in operetta (precursors to modern musical comedies) and lighter tenor roles.
“Austrian tenors are always going for operetta,” he said. “For 12 or 13 years, I sang works like ‘Der Zigeunerbaron’ sometimes twice a day — works that are totally different and unknown to people who listen to Wagner.”
When he took his first stab at Wagner in 2009 — as David, a relatively lyrical part in “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” — Mr. Schager dropped the final letter of his last name on the advice of a colleague.
“It’s difficult if you want to start an international career as a heldentenor with the name Andreas Schagerl,” he recalled the colleague telling him. “Because if you type it into Google, you only find operetta. Many opera directors will see this and won’t even invite you to audition.”
But little else about his vocal transition was calculated. Asked about how the change came about, Mr. Schager replied matter-of-factly: “It happens.”
“I always took the roles that I was given and always made them as good as I was able,” he added. “And so when I got this offer to sing my first Wagner, I said: ‘Why not? I’ll try it.’ I didn’t know anything about Wagner or his music at this time and I began to study, and very soon I recognized that this is very good for my voice. I was very excited and my voice didn’t get tired, so I could go on and go on singing and I felt my voice get stronger every day I trained.”
In April 2013, he became an overnight heldentenor sensation when he jumped in to sing the first act of “Siegfried” at the Berlin State Opera, a sold-out performance conducted by Mr. Barenboim, after another tenor failed to show up on time. Mr. Schager happened to be in the house to rehearse “Götterdämmerung” but was scheduled to sing a bit role in a concert version of Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” across town later that evening.
“At 10 minutes before show time,” he recalled, “the opera director came in and said, ‘Mr. Schager, can you please help us?’”
By the end of the first act, thankfully, the other tenor had materialized and Mr. Schager could rush to his other performance. “It was a busy day for me,” he said with a laugh.
“For me, of course, it was very good luck,” he said. “This story went immediately around the world. Everyone was talking about it; everybody knew my name as this new Siegfried in combination with Daniel Barenboim.”