Posts Tagged ‘Götterdämmerung’

Götterdämmerung, Staatsoper Berlin, Schiller Theater, April 2013

11 April, 2013

When the Rheinmaidens playfully tease Siegfried at the start of Act II, their musical movements were far better than the unmusicality of the irritatingly intrusive dancers, who reappeared in this final part of The Ring. Their manipulation of silk sheets was fine, but this is the first time I have seen opera ladies move more gracefully than dancers, which suggests Belgian director Guy Cassiers should abandon them and let Wagner’s music speak for itself.

Act 1, images ©MonikaRittershaus

Act 1, images ©MonikaRittershaus

Under Barenboim’s direction it did so in spades, with a grippingly emotional Siegfried funeral march movingly complemented by a  red glow in the lighting. But after this the production failed to carry conviction. Siegfried’s arm merely flopped to one side rather than rise in warning to Hagen, who stayed where he was before quietly leaving the stage. He suddenly returned from stage-right to shout Zurück vom Ring, before barging his way through the onlookers to get to the Rhein, but why wasn’t he anxiously waiting and following Siegfried’s body with his eyes? It didn’t make sense.

Nor did some of the video imagery of faces with tongues hanging out, but there was fine singing in abundance. Waltraud Meier, an exceptional Sieglinde in Walküre, returned to sing Second Norn with a lovely evenness of tone, and reappeared strongly as Waltraute in a well wrought conflict with Brünnhilde. Iréne Theorin was commanding in that role, singing with effortless intensity. Siegfried was boldly sung by Andreas Schager, slim, youthful and convincing, as was Mikhail Petrenko as Hagen, and Johannes Martin Kränzle reprised his deeply powerful Alberich. Anna Samuil returned from her Freia in Rheingold to sing Gutrune, and Gerd Grochowski was an immensely effective Gunther, his firm voice complementing a melancholy stage presence that reminded me of a younger Jeremy Irons. His performance was an unexpected pleasure.

Brünnhilde, Hagen, Gunther

Brünnhilde, Hagen, Gunther

Overall, this production has its strong points, particularly in the lighting and some of the better video imagery, but its weakest points lie in the use of dancers. Rheingold was particularly bad in this respect, and Walküre was easily the best part, and the only one in which dancers were entirely absent. An interview in the Walküre programme showed Belgian director Guy Cassiers to have some rather naïve political ideas that included blaming Europeans for much of the poverty in the world. Perhaps his attitudes stem from Belgium’s poor colonial record, but noting that Wotan is cleverer than many of today’s politicians is a bit jejeune.

That Monsieur Cassiers is inspired by concepts relating to the interplay between good and evil, and success and failure, is no bad thing, but the unifying force that makes this Ring work so brilliantly is surely the musical direction by Daniel Barenboim. That plus a clever choice of singers who fitted their roles made this a hugely musical pleasure.

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Götterdämmerung, Longborough Festival Opera, LFO, July 2012

19 July, 2012

After the success of previous years with Rheingold, Walküre and Siegfried, and now with this production of Götterdämmerung, Longborough Opera is ready for a full Wagner Ring next summer. The gold stolen from the Rheinmaidens, which Alberich turned into a ring of great power and Wotan stole from him to pay for Valhalla, is eventually returned to its original home. In Götterdämmerung, Wotan’s schemes, with the world tied into treaties carved on his spear, broken by Siegfried in the previous opera, are now turned to ashes by forces beyond his control, and for a comparison with the Eurozone crisis see my essay Eurodämmerung in History Today.

Norns, all images LFO/ Clive Barda

One of the great advantages of putting on Wagner’s Ring in a relatively small venue such as Longborough, in what is essentially a chamber opera setting, is that the main characters are brought very much down to earth — caught up in someone else’s drama, and impelled by forces they barely understand. Götterdämmerung however starts with the Norns, cleverly portrayed here as immensely tall women, and ends with the Rheinmaidens, shown as desirable ladies in lovely long dresses. These forces of fate, and of nature, frame the opera, along with the demi-goddess Brünnhilde, sung with immense power by Rachel Nicholls, her voice commanding passion, and eventually redemption. It was a super performance, and we are fortunate that she will sing the same role next year for Longborough’s full Ring cycle.

Brünnhilde in Act I

As Siegfried, Mati Turi matched her vocal heft, and as Hagen, Stuart Pendred gave a fine portrayal of careful cunning, while also assuming the role of a gang boss, as when he calls up the vassals in Act II. His diction was brilliantly clear, and at the end of the second scene in Act I his voice swelled with the orchestra as he carried his breath beautifully into the words des Niblungen Sohn. His half-siblings, Gunther and Gutrune were very well performed by Eddie Wade and Lee Bisset. Gunther, despite great vocal strength and physical presence, showed admirable weakness with his body language, before finally standing up to Hagen, who stabs him with a knife; and Gutrune showed a kindly nature, lying down to embrace her brother’s corpse towards the end — a nice touch.

Hagen

The orchestra pit at Longborough extends far beneath the stage, and Anthony Negus marshalled his musical forces with great effect. The orchestra played beautifully, giving life to Alan Privett’s excellent production, whose simple but effective designs by Kjell Torriset were very well lit by Ben Ormerod. Among many fine theatrical moments, the lighting for Hagen’s dream dialogue with his father Alberich was very good, and with Albert Rivers as Alberich this came over well as an otherworldly visitation.

The singing by the chorus and the supporting soloists was extremely good, and I particularly liked Catherine King’s body language as Flosshilde when the Rheinmaidens appear to Siegfried at the start of Act III. By this time, Brünnhilde has rejected her sister Waltraute’s request to give up the ring, and now the Rheinmaidens fail to persuade Siegfried. The Norns’ rope of destiny has already broken and only Brünnhilde can bring final redemption, which she does with great vocal power, while Hagen lurks nearby, awaiting his chance. But the forces of nature sweep him aside and blue light suffuses the stage, bringing this Twilight of the Gods to its final conclusion.

Further performances of Götterdämmerung take place on July 22 and 24 — for more details click here.

Götterdämmerung, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, February 2012

12 February, 2012

Rossini is said to have commented that Wagner had some beautiful moments, but terrible quarters of an hour. Whether this is genuine, I don’t know, but Rossini never heard Götterdämmerung, which is riveting, from the Norns with their rope of fate at the start to Brünnhilde’s immolation at the end. In the right hands with the right singers Götterdämmerung is magnificent, and the Met gave us a whole string of superlatives.

The final scene, all images MetOpera/ Ken Howard

Robert Lepage’s production with its set of long planks on pivots, along with Etienne Boucher’s lighting, allows transformations that in the final scene show Brünnhilde riding her horse onto the funeral pyre and disappearing into a mass of flames washed away by the Rhein. The set allows the Rheinmaidens to swim up and slide down those planks as they tease Siegfried about the ring, and after Gunther has got blood on his hands by cradling the dying Siegfried in his arms, he washes it away and we see the river run red. Glorious effects, but I only wish the translated sub-titles were more accurate. Hagen’s final words are Zurück vom Ring! (Get back from the ring), not ‘Give me the ring!’ And if that was a choice made in the context of the production the same excuse does not apply in some other cases. My point is that we heard such fine diction and it jars when the words are mangled in translation.

Brünnhilde and Siegfried

This is a minor quibble of course because the singing and character portrayals were unbeatable. Jay Hunter Morris is the most convincing Siegfried we are ever likely to encounter. He imbues the role with a joy and vivacity I have never seen equalled. Such a sweet smile he gives the Rheinmaidens when they ask for the ring, and his retelling of past deeds during the hunt was enchanting. Lepage’s production even brought the shadows of those ravens onto the stage before Hagen struck the fatal blow. And what a Hagen we had here in Hans-Peter König. His soliloquy Hier sitz’ ich zur Wacht at the end of Act I scene 2 was hugely powerful, with the production providing added value by seating him between two pillars, in a great chair that finally disappeared through the floor. His call to the vassals in Act II was terrific, and this extraordinary singer portrayed his character as a cunningly smug operator who, despite the dark make-up, reminded me of that Scottish politician attempting to pull Scotland out of the United Kingdom.

Hagen and Siegfried

The Alberich of Eric Owens looked so shrivelled as he appears to Hagen at night, a clever transformation because Owens is a large man. And that other dialogue between Brünnhilde and her sister Waltraute was full of angst. Waltraud Meier showed fearful determination as she visited her sister, yet gradually exhibited a sense that she was out of her depth with Brünnhilde’s newly found passion. Such a tragedy that Brünnhilde is then accosted by an unknown stranger who has walked through the fire, and this was cleverly done with Siegfried’s head covered by the net of the Tarnhelm, which he helpfully removed at one point so the audience could be sure of who he was.

His blood brother Gunther was superbly sung and portrayed by Iain Paterson, who looked very much the part, far slimmer than his recent Don Giovanni at the English National Opera. With Wendy Bryn Harmer as his sister Gutrune, the pair of them were attractively eligible, exhibiting determination and weakness at the same time.

Gunther, Brünnhilde, Hagen

Finally there was Deborah Voigt as Brünnhilde, who opens things up immediately after the Norn scene, and brings it all to a close at the end. She was magnificent and one can see her as the wife of the man who will now rule the world after Wotan’s will has been broken. But like Siegfried she is cleverly deceived by Hagen, giving him the secret of how to kill her hero,and only when the scales have fallen from her eyes can she find the right course of action. Her immolation scene brings all to a close, and the lighting does the rest, as the flames recede into the distance carrying the gods away, and the Rhein purifies the world of Alberich’s transgressions and Wotan’s plans and deceits.

Wonderfully sensitive conducting by Fabio Luisi throughout, ranging from pellucid chamber opera to a full-throated roar of polyphony. I eagerly await broadcasts of the full Ring cycle in 2013.

This broadcast in 2012 is rather well-timed in terms of the Euro crisis — see my Eurodämmerung essay comparing the Ring with the Euro.

Götterdämmerung, The Ring, and the Euro

12 February, 2012

As the Metropolitan Opera in New York completes its Ring cycle with Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods), could there be an analogy with the fate of the Euro?

My review of the Met’s live relay of Götterdämmerung will appear on February 12.

Eurodämmerung

Wagner’s Ring starts with the Niebelung, Alberich forging a ring of power from gold he stole from the river Rhine, using it to create vast wealth. In the meantime the gods construct the mighty palace of Valhalla, without having the money to pay for it, so they trick Alberich out of his treasure in order to pay the giants who did the work. The giants then demand everything, ring included — one kills the other, turns into a dragon and guards his treasure.

All might be well. The gods got something for nothing, but Wotan — king of the gods — having paid off his debt, wants to return the ring to the Rhinemaidens, and the remaining three operas in the cycle deal with the consequences. His plan is a deep one. He fathers two children, Siegmund and Sieglinde, and forges a sword that can be used to kill the dragon. The children grow up together but are later split apart, like West and East Germany, and Sieglinde is forcibly married to a man who doesn’t love her, like East Germany’s marriage to the Soviet Union. They reunite, become lovers, and Siegmund acquires the sword that Wotan created. But Wotan’s wife forcefully objects, and Wotan, realising Siegmund is not the free hero he thought he’d created, changes his mind. With his spear, the mighty instrument on which all treaties are engraved, he breaks the sword.

Siegmund is then killed, but Brünnhilde, daughter of Wotan and the Earth goddess Erda, rescues Sieglinde, and their son Siegfried is born. He becomes the free hero that Wotan originally intended, re-forges the sword, kills the dragon and takes the ring. He then breaks Wotan’s spear with all its treaties, and wins Brünnhilde as his wife.

Angela Merkel knows the story. As a Wagner aficionado she not only attends the opening of the Bayreuth Festival in her official capacity, but goes privately to further performances, and can surely see Wotan’s spear as a metaphor for the treaties of the Euro. It has already cast down the sword of democracy wielded by George Papandreou of Greece — no sooner did he hold it aloft than he was quickly forced from office. But what if someone who is now mightier than they are wields the sword? Chancellor Merkel as a good European is aware of the problem, so she has her solution. Strengthen the spear, strengthen the treaties.

This might work … but then again it might not. Look at Wagner’s Ring. Like present day united Germany, the fearless hero Siegfried is the son of a brother and sister, and if the Germans themselves raise the sword of democracy against the Euro treaties, what then?

In the third opera, after Siegfried has killed the dragon, taken the ring, and broken the spear with all its treaties, Wotan resigns himself to the idea that his days are over, and that his grandson Siegfried will inherit the earth, but … it doesn’t turn out that way.

As we move into the fourth and last opera in the cycle, Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) the Norns, daughters of Erda, are spinning the rope of fate. From the past they can read the future, but other forces are at work, and the rope tightens … then breaks.

Alberich, creator of the ring, has a son Hagen intent on reclaiming it. Hagen schemes against Siegfried and Brünnhilde, deceiving Siegfried, who in turn unwittingly tricks Brünnhilde, and in the resulting confusion she reveals how Hagen can kill Siegfried. The deed is done, the body with the ring is carried home on a mighty funeral procession, and Brünnhilde finally realises the awful truth. She immolates herself on Siegfried’s funeral pyre, and in the resulting conflagration, not even Hagen can secure the ring. The Rhine overflows its banks and the Rhinemaidens sweep forth to take it back to its original home.

This is the end of Wagner’s Ring, but the composer allowed opportunities for avoiding such a dramatic meltdown. After Siegfried has given the ring to Brünnhilde as a wedding gift, one of her sisters comes begging her to return it to the Rhine, but she refuses. Pity, because one of the lessons of the Ring is that if you refuse to give it up it will be taken from you, and you will die, then or later. In the first opera one of the giants suffered this fate, in the third opera it was the dragon, and now in the final opera it happens to Brünnhilde. Hagen deceives Siegfried into losing his memory and taking it from her. Now Siegfried has the ring again, but before Hagen kills him the Rhinemaidens appear and ask for it back. He refuses. The only person who ever gave up the ring voluntarily was Wotan himself, in the Prologue, and that only because the wise earth goddess Erda rose from the depths and insisted.

Can anyone give up the Euro? Does anyone have a plan to return it from whence it came without Europe falling into semi-destruction? Wotan had a plan, but changed his mind, and his uncertainty compounded the problem.

It may seem fanciful to compare the Euro with the Ring, but great stories hold our imaginations because they appeal to unconscious feelings and knowledge. The Euro was created from a sense of idealism, to increase the unity and prosperity of Europe. But like the ring it holds its owners in thrall, and its destructive aspects could yet lead to a mighty conflagration.

Exactly how is not known, but in creating his Ring cycle, Wagner went through several different endings in the final immolation scene with Brünnhilde. The Feuerbach ending, the Schopenhauer ending … Where are the philosophers when we need them? The best laid plans of mice and men, of Niebelungs and gods, can go awry, and if the rope breaks … Far better to return the Euro to its Urheimat voluntarily. Pity there’s no-one who can do it.