One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,416 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             




Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Götterdämmerung (1869-74)
John Treleaven (tenor) ... Siegfried; Falk Struckmann (baritone) ... Gunther; Günter von Kannen (baritone) ... Alberich; Matti Salminen (bass) ... Hagen; Deborah Polaski (soprano) ... Brünnhilde; Elisabete Matos (soprano) ... Gutrune/Third Norn; Julia Juon (mezzo) ... Waltraute/First Norn; Leandra Overmann (mezzo) ... Second Norn; Cristina Obregón (soprano) ... Woglinde; Maria Rodríguez (mezzo) ... Wellgunde; Francisca Beaumont (mezzo) ... Flosshilde; Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu/Bertrand de Billy.
Rec. Live at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona on June 6th and 14th, 2004.
Director: Harry Kupfer.
LPCM Stereo. 16:9 anamorphic. Digital DTS Surround. PAL.
[3 DVDs: 284:00]


Although recorded in Barcelona, this production by Harry Kupfer was originally seen at the Deutsche Staatsoper Unter Den Linden (Berlin). Magnificently dark and disturbing, the experience Kupfer creates is long-lasting and thought-provoking. I enjoyed the Siegfried of this Ring (not reviewed by me), but this final instalment is awe-inspiring.

The same cannot be said uniformly of the orchestral contribution. In particular the violins have some decidedly ropy moments when challenged to perform in unison at speed that can be distracting. Bertrand de Billy is a good – not great – Wagner conductor. Although there is some give and take, the sense of flow is not always maintained; a direct result of his attention to local detail taking precedence over the more large-scale vision so necessary in successful Wagner interpretation.

Things do not get off to the best of starts. The curtain rises during the very first chords – while we the viewers are still getting the credits overlaid! The stage sets the scene for the tenor of the production. A mesh background of light rises from behind as we enter Wagner's primeval world, here with a green backdrop that could easily come from the film series, 'The Matrix'. The vocally well-matched Norns spin their 'rope', here an electric, luminous cable as they distance the listener from the story by the act of their retelling. Billy shows his grasp of local colour well, in that the orchestra is dark and details telling - try the stopped horn 'flecking' the overall warm sound, for example.

For Siegfried's Rhine Journey, the camera dwells on a night scene - still with the mesh/net segmenting the sky. This mesh is replaced by something that is strongly reminiscent of Chéreau (a generator of some sort?) as Siegfried and Brünnhilde, enclosed in a box, rejoice in their love. Polaski is of course a hugely experienced Wagnerienne and exudes confidence. Her Siegfried (John Treleaven) is lusty of voice and as a character is clearly someone who follows the emotions of the moment. Hero he may be, over-intellectually endowed he is not. The ring he gives her is huge, more of an amulet. Emotions are at a height here and it is incumbent on the orchestra to match them. Alas this orchestra cannot, quite, as it resides in the upper second class of pit orchestras. A shame really as vocally the scene climaxes naturally and impressively - Polaski's final high C is a real peach!

Throughout the music-drama, dark shades predominate. No surprise that much feels oppressive, although that is not necessarily a negative comment. Rather one is thrown into a world that, while clearly related in some respects to our own, resides in a distinctly parallel universe. It is here that Kupfer's triumph lies, in his transportation of the listener/viewer to a world that becomes eminently believable, even disturbingly familiar. Perhaps one of his aims was to appeal to the side of all of us that dwells in the world of dreams, wherein colours can be bright and heightened in vibrancy; the treatment of colours is masterly throughout.

The contrast between the dark (dark blue) of the set of Act 1 Scene 1 (in the Hall of the Gibichungs) and the brightly-lit evening dress of Gunter and Gutrune is marked, themselves contrasting with the black leather of Hagen. This scene triumphs because of the excellence of the participants. Salminen, whose DVD Gurnemanz was so strong for Nagano (see review) is no less impressive here. Struckmann is fully inside his part, yet it is Elisabete Matos's Gutrune that really impresses. Throughout this scene Billy keeps up the momentum, which is clearly his interpretative priority - providing plenty of orchestral impetus at the climactic 'Blutbruderschaft' passage. To his credit he gives his Hagen plenty of space for Hagen's Watch. Salminen here is gripping and authoritative.

Of all of the Prologue and Act 1, it is the scene between Brünnhilde and Waltraute that opens Scene 2 of Act 1 proper that really impresses. There is a truly intense interaction here, and Waltraute's Narration is superbly despatched by Julia Juon.

Alberich and Hagen's scene that opens Act 2 is spell-binding. The setting remains indebted to industry-scape, with a cache of satellite receivers present. Black again predominates - Hagen remains all in black too. Alberich (von Kannen) is the embodiment of evil, Treleaven's Siegfried the 'innocent' (in the Parsifal sense) hero.

Act 2 however is dominated by Polaski's simply magnificent Brünnhilde, awe-inspiring as she heaps curses on Siegfried, unbelievable touching when left alone on stage, believably furious yet imperious after Siegfried's death.

Elemental videos of clouds and sky and a group of wild hunting horns introduce Act 3. The Norns emerge from panels in a slanting slope, working excellently together. They are effectively corpses that sing – a shame the strings' evident strain with faster passages again detracts - lack of both agility and tone is the problem here. As the Norns deliberate on karma as they prophesy, they group in one place, with Siegfried diagonally opposite.

Treleaven excels in these final stages of his part, telling his stories well, his voice marked by its freedom, his death all the more touching for his believability. Salminen's cries in Scene 2 are magnificently imposing.

For the final stages of the cycle, Siegfried is laid on a plinth with steps up to it. Polaski's responsibility of course is to create the climax of the entire work - by 'work' I refer of course to the entire tetralogy. She has huge amounts of strength in reserve. What a shame - the recurring refrain of this review - that the orchestra cannot match her intensity, its contribution marked by literal, uninvolved playing. Perhaps the climax of this Immolation is her rapt singing of 'Ruhe, O Gott', marked by an involving devotion.

This is in many respects a superb Götterdämmerung. The acid test is that one should emerge exhausted from Wagner's emotional outpourings, yet uplifted. This de Billy and his team of soloists do in the final analysis achieve. A better orchestra would have clinched it, but bear in mind that the thought-provoking production is at times a visual feast, at times deeply disturbing.

Colin Clarke

see also Review by Anne Ozorio








Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.