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Richard WAGNER (1813 -1883)
Der Ring des Nibelungen: Götterdämmerung

Siegfried: Albert Bonnema
Gunther: Hernan Iturraide
Alberich: Franz-Joseph Kappelmann
Hagen: Roland Brecht
Brünnhilde: Luana DeVol
Waltraute: Tichina Vaughn
1st Norn: Janet Collins
2nd Norn: Lani Poulson
3rd Norn: Sue Patchell
Woglinde: Helga-Rós Indridadóttir
Wellgunde: Sarah Castle
Floshilde: Janet Collins
Staatsorchester Stuttgart/Lothar Zagrosek
Stage Direction: Peter Konwitschny
Stage and Costume Designer: Bert Neumann
Dramaturgy: Julianne Votteler
TV and Video Direction: Hans Hulscher, Producer: Dieter Schickling
Recorded live at the Staatsoper Stuttgart, 3rd October 2002 and 12th January 2003
EUROARTS TDK 10 5209 9 DV-OPRDNG [2DVDs: 267 minutes]

As those who read either TH’s review of Rheingold and Walküre or my own on Siegfried might recall, Staatsoper Stuttgart’s 2002 Ring cycle had different directors and casts for each part of the tetralogy. Since I was critical of the ‘Siegfried’, I read the booklet for these discs with an eyebrow ready-raised in anticipation of what I might find. No surprise then, to learn that in directing ‘Götterdämmerung’ Peter Konwitschny felt ‘under no obligation to draw together the threads of a holistic concept of the work to override the individual parts…’ And no surprise either, that he sets ‘the action on the simple wooden stage of a touring theatre company.’

To begin with the ending so to speak, I should say at once that Konwitschny reserves his really big idea for the finale, where the audience becomes part of the action. When Hagen steps forward to take the Ring from Siegfried’s finger in Act III, the house lights come on and both Siegfried and Gunther return to life. The cast then leaves the stage until Brünnhilde stands alone to sing the Immolation music to the fully visible theatre. As the drama closes, Wagner’s stage directions appear behind her on a back-projected screen. ‘The director refers us to the score:’ the booklet says on this point, ‘read it, listen to it!’ Sound advice.

The rest of the staging is a cross between the set for a medieval mystery play and the Pyramus and Thisbe episode in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ with minimal props and heavy emphasis on ‘messages.’ The Norns are a set of bag-ladies slowly unpicking the web of fate from a woolly jumper, Brünnhilde’s rock is a badly painted mountain scene kitted out with tinsel fire, and the Gibichung Hall is a simple all-purpose wooden structure with a stove and one of those mirrored balls that used to be found in dance-halls.

Everyone wears modern dress except Siegfried, Alberich and the Rhine Maidens. Brünnhilde is in a nightdress covered by a cardigan most of the time while Siegfried is Fred Flintstone until he meets the sophisticated Gibichungs. To show ‘some human warmth from the dark character of Hagen,’ Alberich dies at the end of the Watch scene and turns up dressed in his shroud. He also has spindly fingers to emphasise his nastiness and shoes on his knees like some Toulouse Lautrec. The Rhine Maidens favour chiffon and the Gibichungs are executives for Gibichungs Inc.

It quickly becomes tedious, the frantic and pointed messaging. Hagen bares his chest when summoning the vassals because they’re all at a sales meeting and we wouldn’t know how tough they are otherwise. Siegfried is stabbed with his own sword (Petard! I hear you cry) and dies in the guilt-ridden Gunther’s arms. Brünnhilde switches from her nightie to a red crimplene two-piece to deliver the dénouement. Fluffy bunny no more, you see.

Even worse than this though, is the insistence that the production lets ‘Horror and comedy jostle each other’. There’s a lot of stuff with cake for instance. Gutrune bakes a cake to welcome Brünnhilde to Gibichungsville but the primitive Siegfried eats it. When everything turns out badly of course, more cake is ground into dust.

The fun never stops. Not once. When Siegfried meets up with the Rhinemaidens, to tease him they hide a comedy bear he was chasing. Later, they dress like the Norns to remind him of his Fate and the bear holds up the Norns’ jumper for emphasis. I found myself longing for a concert performance.

Musically the production meets the standards of a competent provincial company, with decent though not outstanding singing from most of the principals, especially the Norns and Rhinemaidens. Luan DeVol has a heavy vibrato but at least can sing in tune. By contrast Albert Bonnema and the notion of pitch are not well acquainted. He improves as the performance progresses but almost always slides up to his higher notes and at his worst relies on the quasi – Sprechstimme adopted by Wagner tenors who are struggling.

TH commented that the Chéreau/Boulez Ring would be his choice over the Stuttgart performances that he reviewed, at least until the Kupfer/Barenboim Bayreuth production is released on DVD. Having the first on DVD and the second on tape, I concur completely.

Bill Kenny


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