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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
see also Review
by Anne Ozorio