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Richard WAGNER(1813 – 1883)
Götterdämmerung (1876)
Heinz Kruse (tenor) – Siegfried; Wolfgang Schöne (baritone) – Gunther; Henk Smit (baritone) – Alberich; Kurt Rydl (bass) – Hagen; Jeannine Altmeyer (soprano) – Brünnhilde; Eva.Maria Bundschuh (soprano) – Gutrune; Anne Gjevang (contralto) – Waltraute; Hebe Dijkstra (soprano) – First Norn; Irmgard Vilsmaier (soprano) – Second Norn; Kirsi Tiihonen (soprano) – Third Norn; Gabriele Fontana (soprano) – Woglinde; Hanna Schaer (mezzo-soprano) – Wellgunde; Catherine Keen (contralto) – Flosshilde.
Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra/Hartmut Haenchen
Stage director: Pierre Audi; Set design: George Tsypin; Costume design: Eiko Ishioka; Light design: Wolfgang Göbbel; Dramaturgy: Klaus Bertisch; TV director: Hans Hulscher
rec. live, Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam, 1999
OPUS ARTE OA 0949D [3 DVDs: 268:00]

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 (see review). 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.
Göran Forsling

see also reviews by Anne Ozorio and Colin Clarke


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