With Götterdämmerung we reach the end
of this very special traversal of Der Ring des Nibelungen, and
it has been a fascinating journey. I wrote about the timelessness
of the production in an earlier review; possibly I should modify
this by saying that it tries to encompass all times. Through
dispensing with traditional sets and instead utilizing more
or less abstract constructions, which differ greatly from opera
to opera, the production team leaves the field open for the
viewer to create his/her own mental pictures. Atmosphere is
achieved through the skilful use of light design, often enthrallingly
beautiful or dramatically suggestive. Flames and smoke and
at key points other spectacular visual effects are also used.
The final scene of Götterdämmerung is breathtakingly
efficient when Brünnhilde suddenly is wrapped into an enormous
glowingly red piece of cloth that eventually covers the whole
stage and, operated by four extras is kept alive, fluttering
like flames until she is finally burnt to ashes and there remains
a smouldering heap in the middle of the stage. Much of this
suggests present time, while the costumes point in many directions.
The Gibichungs for instance, Gunther and Gutrune, are dressed
initially in middle class formal dresses, suggesting Wagner’s
own time. And of course, however universal this epic is intended
to be, it is, like all works of art, a product of its time.
The eternal questions are coloured by conventions of thinking,
of norms, of attitudes, so Wagner shines through the timelessness,
but it is up to the viewer to use his/her own filters and decide
what parts of the story one is willing to accept. Director
and designers invite us to a smorgasbord but we can
pick and choose among the dishes.
The whole cycle has been characterised by generally excellent acting and once
again it turns out that the evil forces are the winners in this respect. In Das
Rheingold Alberich stole not only the gold but more or less the whole show
In Siegfried Graham Clark’s Mime was so all-embracing that the opera
almost became his. In Götterdämmerung it is Kurt Rydl’s Hagen who portraits
evil with such presence, such power that one almost cringes in the TV chair.
My colleague Anne Ozorio made a brilliant analysis of this in her review and
I enthusiastically refer readers to that review (see review),
just as I did with Siegfried, which we also both reviewed (see reviews
by Anne and myself).
After Das Rheingold I was not wholly convinced by this production; it
was fascinating and I warmed to it during the evening but had some adverse
criticism about the standard of singing. Die Walküre was a vast improvement
in that respect and Siegfried was a triumph, no less. While still being
captivated by the drama I can’t help feeling a bit disappointed about much
of the singing in Götterdämmerung. Jeannine Altmayer’s Brünnhilde is
really the star of this performance, singing with beautiful silvery tone and
steadiness and also with deep identification. But I am afraid that steadiness
is the vocal quality most missing, in fact there is a great deal of wobbling.
Even Anne Gjevang’s once so firm tone has lost its centre and Kurt Rydl, imposing
as he is as a character, is no pleasure to hear. But such is the intensity
and concentration of the performance that once one has been captured one forgets
about some deficiencies. I know that different ears take differently to vibratos
and unsteadiness, and I want to make it clear that the problems exist; readers
who are sensitive to these matters should be warned. Quite the best voice per
se is actually Kirsi Tiihonen’s in the small role as the Third Norn in
the prologue. She has gone on to become one of the leading Isoldes and will
probably one day be a Brünnhilde too.
These reservations apart I am still enthusiastic about the whole cycle and
I am convinced that many Wagnerians – and hopefully even non-Wagnerians – will
find new aspects in these ever fascinating scores.
see also reviews by Anne
Ozorio and Colin