is perhaps Wagner's darkest vision
and it was with high hopes that I looked
forward to what a good director and
cast would make of it. Kupfer's production
of Das Rheingold held high promise,
for it was full of insight into the
undercurrents of the great saga, and
illuminated the drama intelligently.
Here we have an exceptional
performance from Matti Salminen as Hagen.
He is so good that, frankly, he steals
the show. It is valid to see an interpretation
that emphasises Hagen's role, for he
is the culmination of Alberich's ambition.
In Götterdämmerung he
is the agent who causes the downfall
of the Gods. Siegfried is fearless,
but also a fool, easily outwitted. It
is Brünnhilde who is the true hero,
for it is she who understands that the
Ring must be renounced and returned
whence it came. Götterdämmerung
is the culmination of the whole
struggle between greed and altruism,
and it's perfectly reasonable to see
this stage of the drama as a struggle
between Hagen and Brünnhilde for
what they represent. Thus the dominance
of Salminen has artistic as well as
In Kupfer's original
Berlin production, Hagen was performed
by no less than John Tomlinson. I did
not see that, but can imagine that Tomlinson,
like Salminen, would have been just
as authoritative, so it's possible that
in casting for Barcelona, Kupfer was
thinking along the lines of a Hagen
with depth, a fully realised character
of immense force, not merely an Alberich
revived. Indeed, Salminen is so good
that he captures the human side of the
role, and the "courage" he
learned from his mother. There is a
vulnerable side to this Hagen, who knows
that his parentage has cursed him to
be isolated. It makes him a tragic figure,
a victim as well as an agent of evil.
In this production he spends a lot of
time sitting alone on a platform, from
which he can observe all but not be
part of it. He tries to ignore Alberich
when the old man comes shuffling, almost
broken to haunt his dreams. Alberich
has to remind Hagen to "hate the
happy", as if he knows that Hagen
needs to be pushed. Salminen in every
nuance, with every movement, plays the
role with dignity and depth. At the
end, while Brünnhilde sings, the
camera catches Hagen several times,
always looking subdued and thoughtful.
He shouts "The Ring is mine"
without conviction, as he jumps into
the Rhine, and, perhaps, redemption.
In this production,
Brünnhilde literally wears the
trousers. Even her tunic resembles the
Gibichung's coats: all of them are thinking
adults, Siegfried here is the real alien.
Deborah Polaski's voice is not among
my favourites, but here she plays the
role with a sort of androgynous power
which goes some way towards balancing
Salminen. It is a long and demanding
role, which she carries off, if in a
fairly straightforward way. Elisabeta
Matos's Gutrune was something of a surprise.
She was convincing as a glamour queen
but developed her role superbly as the
horror of the trick played on Siegfried
dawned on her. Her whole appearance
transformed, and her singing took on
a more mature, harrowing tone. While
hers is a minor role, it is a complement
to Brünnhilde's, for she too understands
that wrongs should be righted.
Falk Struckmann was
barely recognisable as a greasy lounge
lizard Gunther, but he sang well. As
he comforted the dying Siegfried, he
acted well, too, showing real humanity
and tenderness. John Treleaven's Siegfried
perhaps didn't deserve it. He sang in
an uncomfortably high register, with
predictable results. The shrillness
and lack of colour might have been forgivable.
But whoever convinced him to overact?
He rolls his eyes and grimaces ludicrously.
Yes, Siegfried gets intoxicated by the
potion, but he doesn't need to loll
about like a comic-book drunk. He may
be an innocent fool, but he should at
least awaken a modicum of sympathy.
The magic that made this butch Brünnhilde
fall for him must have been powerful
In the first act, I
was disappointed by the orchestra, playing
focus. Leitmotivs are there for a purpose,
and they need to be clear enough especially
against powerful expressive singing
like Salminen's. Fortunately, as the
opera progressed, they seemed to pull
together better. All stops were pulled
out for the magnificent final scene.
Perhaps it was the magnificent staging,
for the grid background that stood for
the Rhine, the Rainbow Bridge and more
in Das Rheingold, exploded into
an orgy of "fire" effects.
As if to acknowledge the return of "nature"
from the sterility of technology, what
appeared to be real flames leapt up.
The choir effectively added to the sense
of chaos by wandering like escapees
from a fire bomb, their hands above
their heads in supplication. The orchestra
finally ignited musically, too, in wildly
dramatic finale, all the more spectacular
for being so dark and devoid of colour.