Siegfried is notorious as one of the hardest roles for a tenor. What are the musical challenges?
You know, all that talk about the toughest tenor part in the world—I don’t really think that way. Once the curtain goes up and the lights come on, it’s about telling a story. But in all honesty, on a scale from 1 to 10 Siegfried is a 10 and Götterdämmerung is a 9. They’re both very long evenings with a big orchestra and a lot of big moments. For me the challenge is to sing with my most beautiful sound and to not get knocked off balance by the intensity of the drama.
How have you been preparing for this final step on your Ring journey?
I’ve been working on the Ring a lot for the past three years, beginning in 2009 in Seattle as a cover and then in LA and San Francisco, where I sang Siegfried for the first time. So I feel confident about Götterdämmerung. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what is important and what part of the story you want to focus on.
How do you see the character developing from one opera to the next?
A significant amount of time passes between the end of Siegfried and the beginning of Götterdämmerung. Brünnhilde finally says, Okay, I’ve taught you everything and I understand that you have to go out and see the rest of the world. He is eager to go and see what’s out there. After he leaves Brünnhilde, everyone always talks about his betrayal and how he has forgotten her and their love, but the truth is that he was drugged! I feel like Siegfried’s innocence is still intact because he is not a willing participant in that betrayal. That’s why his death scene is so poignant for me. Those few minutes are my favorite part of the Ring. It was the first thing that I learned when it came time to get serious about studying the role. It is so beautiful and so heartbreaking. He suddenly realizes what has happened, how Brünnhilde has been hurt, and how wonderful their relationship had once been. I want to try and keep some part of his innocence throughout Götterdämmerung.
You’ll be reuniting with Deborah Voigt. Tell me about working with her.
I think Debbie and I are from the same tribe. She’s so easy to work with and there is an ease of communication. When we did Siegfried, she looked me in the face and we both knew. It was very easy to sing those scenes with her. And she is so beautiful and her singing is so expressive—I feel so fortunate to sing with Debbie Voigt and share the stage with her. She makes me better, she makes me more relaxed. Believe me, that’s not always the case!
In the spring you’ll be singing Siegfried and Götterdämmerung back to back. Does that change the way you approach a performance or look at the character?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. But when that downbeat comes, I will be into it. From the first note to the last, I sing every note as best I can. That’s what happened with Siegfried—I felt strong at the end because I was cognizant of what I was doing from the start. A lot of people are saying I’m just beginning to burst onto the scene, but let me tell you, I’ve been working toward this moment for 20 years! You can’t just burst onto the scene as Siegfried. There are no shortcuts. Four years ago I wouldn’t have been ready to take the steps I’ve taken this past year. It’s as if everything came together and I am so very grateful. I feel prepared. When the call came and Peter Gelb asked me if I could do this, I could honestly look him in the face and say, "Yes, I am ready." —Charles Sheek
This interview was first published online and in the Met's Playbill in February 2012.