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Richard WAGNER (1813–1883)
Götterdämmerung (1876)
Siegfried Jerusalem (tenor) – Siegfried; Bodo Brinkmann (baritone) – Gunther; Philip Kang (bass) – Hagen; Günter von Kannen (bass) – Alberich; Anne Evans (soprano) – Brünnhilde; Eva-Maria Bundschuh (soprano) – Gutrune; Waltraud Meier (mezzo) – Waltraute; Birgitta Svendén (mezzo) – 1. Norn; Linda Finnie (contralto) – 2. Norn; Uta Priew (mezzo) – 3. Norn; Hilde Leidland (soprano) – Woglinde; Annette Küttenbaum (mezzo) – Wellgunde; Jane Turner (contralto) – Flosshilde;
Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele/Daniel Barenboim
filmed at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus in June and July 1991
Staged and directed by Harry Kupfer;
Stage design: Hans Schavernoch;
Costume design: Reinhard Heinrich;
Video director: Horant H. Hohlfeld
Artistic supervision: Wolfgang Wagner
Bonus feature: Daniel Barenboim and John Tomlinson talk about the Harry Kupfer production of the "Ring" at Bayreuth in 1991 and 1992
Colour: NTSC System 16:9; Disc Format: 2x DVD-9; Audio Content: LCPM Stereo; Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround; DTS 5.1 Surround (opera), LCPM Stereo (bonus feature)
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 62321-2 [270:00 + 13:00]
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The prologue to this version of the last part of the enormous Ring cycle opens with the Norns weaving the fates of mankind, surrounded by big crosses. The first associations are therefore with Golgotha. And then there are those replicas of Siegfried’s sword. When the Norns start to fasten their threads to these ‘things’ and connect them the self-evident reference is to aerials, connecting the Ring’s two worlds: the realms of the humans and of the Gods. Dressed in nun-like outfit and with pale faces the Norns struggle with their yarn until "the end of eternal wisdom", then disappear through the stage floor: "The world will see us no more". In their place an enormous altar is elevated from below, but it turns out to be Brünnhilde’s rock … Overall this production comes up with a plethora of inventive stage solutions. I am not going to tire readers by describing them all, or rather: since I am going to recommend this set I don’t want to take away the pleasure that lies in discovering these things one one’s own.

I have been fascinated straight through this Ring cycle - I have yet to see Die Walküre although I know it well as a sound recording - by the staging and the lighting but I do have some objections to the acting. To my taste there is too much running back and forth, climbing, lying on one’s back – Siegfried Jerusalem must have been as fit as a Marathon-runner fifteen years ago. There may have been a thought behind all this even though I remain mystified but generally speaking I am not too fond of all this running, walking, biking business that goes on in many productions. This is not to be interpreted as criticism; I just want to explain my point of view.

The costumes are a mix of modern, ancient and indefinable. Gutrune powders her nose when Siegfried is about to arrive and in the last act, lo and behold, she has blazing red nail-polish! Waltraute wears a kind of Star Wars helmet. Siegfried, on the other hand, after having dressed up in the first and second acts, in the third attires himself in the same blue overalls as in Siegfried. He looks like some service person when he has his dispute with the Rhinemaidens.

The acting is uniformly good and, just as in the other Barenboim-Bayreuth-Warner sets, little of the singing can be faulted. Siegfried Jerusalem is more lyrical than most Siegfrieds but he has enough heft when needed. His death scene veers between weak lyricism and wild ecstasy and is a masterly creation. Here it is shown to a great extent in close-up. Having been stabbed by Hagen and sung his final phrases he stumbles towards the back of the stage but falls dead to the ground, which opens like a crater. Wotan himself comes in, dumbfounded, and sits down, grieving, by the side of the crater; on the opposite side Brünnhilde kneels. I admired Anne Evans greatly in Siegfried. Here she has much more opportunity to demonstrate her powers which she does admirably. Her voice combines biting steel with human warmth. Her final scene must count among the best on any complete set.

Eva-Maria Bundschuh is an expressive Gutrune and the young Waltraud Meier is a fresh-voiced Waltraute. Among the norns Birgitta Svendén is deeply impressive. Bodo Brinkmann acts well as Gunther but I have heard more ingratiating singing of the role. On the Pierre Audi/Hartmut Haenchen set from Amsterdam Kurt Rydl’s Hagen dominated the stage whenever he appeared through Rydl’s galvanising acting. Philip Kang too has tremendous stage presence and his voice is steadier. Günter von Kannen creates, as in Das Rheingold and Siegfried a terrible Alberich with his expressive face and rolling eyes. The male chorus should also be credited for expressive acting, dressed more or less like Siegfried in workers’ outfits, as opposed to the Amsterdam set, where they were a faceless anonymous mass.

This Götterdämmerung ends as Das Rheingold started: in the green depths of the Rhine. No, not quite: it goes a step further just as Das Rheingold started a little earlier. I can’t help quoting Tony Haywood’s review of that set: "As the low E flat rumbles away like an organ pedal, Kupfer has his cast of characters stood motionless on the bare set dressed in modern outdoor clothes. They are survivors from some catastrophic holocaust, standing at a crossroads, the meaning of which will work its way full circle at the end of Götterdämmerung. They turn and walk slowly away into the black distance of designer Hans Schavernoch’s now-famous ‘highway to nowhere’." Here, during the final bars of the Ring, they are back, but in party dress and with champagne glasses. They celebrate the hoped for return of the Ring to its rightful place and the resulting liberation from the evil powers that have ruled the proceedings. The king of evil and greed, Alberich, who started it all, stands to the left, observing the partying. All’s well that ends well? Or is it?

Of the two most recently issued DVD Rings, I found much to admire in the semi-staged Amsterdam set. However, in the last resort this Barenboim/Kupfer production wins hands down through more spectacular sets and more accomplished singing. John Bröcheler’s Wotan and Jeannine Altmeyer’s Brünnhilde are great assets in Amsterdam, as is Graham Clark’s Mime, but he is of course also in the Barenboim cast. Where in Amsterdam there were several ‘wobblers’ in the cast, Bayreuth has much steadier voices all round. The Barenboim set has always been among the top contenders on CD and with the added impact of the visual dimension it becomes even more attractive.

Göran Forsling

See Das Rheingold
Die Walkure


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