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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Götterdämmerung (1869-74)
Heinz Kruse (tenor) Siegfried; Jeannine Altmeyer (soprano) Brünnhilde; Wolfgang Schöne (baritone) Gunther; Henk Smit (bass) Alberich; Kurt Rydl (bass) Hagen; Annr Gjeving (mezzo) Waltraute; Eva-Maria Bundschuh (soprano) Gutrune; Hebe Dijkstra (mezzo) First Norn; Irmgard Vilsmaier (mezzo) Second Norn; Kirsi Tiihonen (soprano) Third Norn; Gabriele Fontana (soprano) Woglinde; Hanna Schaer (soprano) Welgunde; Catherine Keen (mezzo) Flosshilde; Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra/Hartmut Haenchen.
rec. live at Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam, 1999
Stage Direction: Pierre Audi
LPCM Stereo. 16:9 anamorphic. All Regions
OPUS ARTE OA 0949 D [3 DVDs: 269:00]

It is fascinating to compare this DVD Götterdämmerung with Bertrand de Billy's starrier version on the same label from the Gran Teatre del Liceu in 2004, with Deborah Polaski as Brünnhilde, Falk Struckmann as Gunther and Matti Salminen as Hagen. OA 0913 D (see review). Both are superbly lit, the Liceu very modern in its matrices of light and its occasional dinner-party costumes - de rigueur in contemporary Wagner productions, it sometimes seems. There, Harry Kupfer excels where Pierre Audi often seems merely pedestrian, or out to shock for the sake of it. The present Netherlands production has its modernisms, too - the occasional magic light bulb, Star Trek-like salutes from the bald Norns. It even has dry ice and a rather bizarre wicker-work Tarnhelm. Note that in the Netherlands the orchestra is in a visible pit in the middle of the stage, so characters can move in front of as well as behind the band, an effect I found disconcerting - perhaps if Haenchen had been a more eloquent conductor in his gestures? ... The rubber-suited Rhinemaiden's will, I am sure, raise the occasional eye-brow, but possibly the most bizarre element is Waltraute's wings – she looks like 'A Valkyrie Called Biggles', a great shame as Anne Gjevang is every inch the match of Jeannine Altmeyer's Brünnhilde. Her Narration is simply stunning, both dramatically and vocally. Gjevang's tenderness and anguish simply have to be experienced.

The Dutch performance's secret weapon, though, is Kurt Rydl's Hagen, an assumption of tremendous power. He matches - without being preferable to - the excellent Matti Salminen on the 'rival' set - rival in inverted commas as they are both from the same issuing company. His bizarre bare yellow chest giving him just the right 'supernatural' slant. Hagen's Watch is magnificent. Haenchen is very visible during this passage – some may find this more tolerable than I. The scene with Alberich (Henk Smit) reveals two 'black' voices at their peak.

As the hero, Heinz Kruse is physically rather unconvincing; not wishing to insult the gentleman, I still have to say that a rather short and fat Siegfried does not really fit the bill for me. Vocally Kruse has an appealing baritonal quality at times but in the higher Heldentenor passages his voice does not have that essential edge. His stage presence could do with some work, too – his miming of horn playing in Act 3 is rather amateurish: he takes the horn away from his lips while the real player is still evidently blowing away! It is only in Act 3, when he relates history - a very good Woodbird impression - that he really gives a hint of what he may be capable of. Wolfgang Schöne is a slick Gunther, almost a match for his Gutrune, the excellent Eva-Maria Bandschuh.

The orchestra is variable but can provide moments of real beauty – Dawn being a prime example. Yet sometimes accents are underplayed. The passage immediately after Brunnhilde's top C 'Heil' in the Prologue is a prime example, a particular shame as that very top C is itself a definite 'almost but not quite', almost as if defining the orchestra's ensuing contribution. Perhaps most unforgivable is the approach to the Immolation Scene. In almost every performance this is a moment of magic but here it is almost unremarkable, almost workaday. Altmeyer cannot match Polaski in these final moments – does Altmeyer's Brünnhilde really believe that 'no-one betrayed Siegfried like her'? Her Erda-impression just sounds strained. And yet there is an astonishing, 'Fliegt Heim, ihr Raben' that seemingly comes out of nowhere. Red cloth - symbolising flames - is her personal fire … and where, oh where is Grane?

The recording quality is excellent; try the lovely rounded sound at the beginning of Act 2. The chorus of Gibichungs is impressively sung and recorded. They are portrayed as quite literally a faceless army. 

It has to be said there is much to enjoy here, sonically and vocally, despite my misgivings. Perhaps we are getting spoiled by all this DVD Wagner?

This set includes a brief Introduction to the work by the composer Peter-Jan Wagemans, the presenter Michael Zeeman and Ronald de Leeuw. The Liceu set only provides a Cast Gallery and Illustrated Synopsis.

Colin Clarke


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