One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,416 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             





Richard WAGNER (1860-1911)
ötterdämmerung (1876)
Siegfried: Heinz Kruse
Alberich: Henk Smit
Waltraute: Anne Gjevang
Brünnhilde: Jeannine Altmeyer
Hagen: Kurt Rydl
Gunther: Wolfgang Schöne
Gutrune: Eva-Maria Bundschuh
Der Nederlandse Opera
Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra/Hartmut Haenchen
Stage Director: Pierre Audi
rec. live, Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam, 1999
DVD: all regions
OPUS ARTE OA 0949 D [3 DVDs: 268:00]

Each Ring cycle is unique, and needs appreciation on its own terms.  This very unusual production will rank as one of the more cereberal because it frees the ideas so central to its meaning from extraneous accretions.   As my colleague Göran Forsling puts it so well, it has a “quality of timelessness”, for it is a universal, ever recreating itself in the psyche of thoughtful observers.  Wagner’s productions at Bayreuth were state of the art for his time, but he knew there was much more to be drawn from the saga   “I would not want to experience the current performance again”, he wrote to his patron King Ludwig  II, “at least not those while I am still alive”.  Unthinking banality was a travesty of his entire worldview, as any listener understanding the Ring might notice. And so we proceed to  Götterdämmerung, whence the many themes of the Ring are drawn to conclusion.

Unlike the brutish Nibelungs, the Gibichungs are, if anything, too effete.  Their status was inherited, not earned, and indeed, it’s not even clear where it comes from – how did their mother come to have a child by Alberich ?   They don’t treat their followers badly.  Nonetheless, the followers are depicted as robots, marching in strict formation, devoid of individual personality.   Their docility is mindless, or it is mindlessness that breeds conformity ?

The Gibichung/Nibelung hybrid, Hagen is fascinating.   In this production, Kurt Rydl plays him as a deeply complex, conflicted personage.   There’s nothing of his crawling uncle Mime in him.   Where his forbears thought only of themselves, Hagen stands guard for his siblings because his mother wanted him to do so. To his father, he is obedient, rather than enthusiastic, though, ultimately he serves his purpose.  Rydl’s voice is mesmerising and resonant, giving his characterisation great depth and complexity.  He sings his lines with dignity, infusing his words with sensitively nuanced feeling.  Strangely, in this production, where he exhibits hero-like characteristics, he resembles Wotan, and indeed is quite a convincing “schwarz Alberich”, just as Wotan is a multi sided “weiss Alberich”.  This Hagen thinks, even though he cannot fight his destiny.  Siegfried, on the other hand, despite his fearlessness and innocence, lives only for the moment.  Brünnhilde knows only too well that he must go on to other adventures, rather than develop his relationship with her.  This Seigfried chases Gutrune more than she does him, jumping on her with erotic intent, a reflection of Alberich before he seized the gold.  The music makes it explicit.  This Gutrune is a neurotic, buttoned up spinster, a change from the current fashion for portraying her as an aggressor (which often works).  This approach brings out a deeper level to Siegfried’s character.  Simple mindedness, Wagner implies, is not evil, but is easily led, and ultimately contributes to tragedy.  Drawing on the intriuging idea of a Wotan/Hagen parallel, I watched the scene where Siegfried jokes with the Rhinemaidens, thinking where a Siegfried/Alberich parallel might lead.  I’m not at all sure, but a production that makes you think, and reconsider conventional wisdom, is one in tune with Wagner’s intellectual method.  When Kruse sings Siegfried’s dying salutation, “Heilige Braut” with noble intensity, you realise just how good an actor he is, having convinced us of a cruder Siegfried right until the end.

Wagner’s real hero is Brünnhilde, in the sense that only she understands fully what the Ring has wrought and how the curse must be lifted.  The Wanderer has knowledge, but Brünnhilde has the integrity to act, even when it’s not in her own interest.   Understanding is the way forward, implies Wagner, and breaking the cycle of self-serving power games.  It would be greedy to expect Jeaninne Altmeyer’s Brünnhilde to be in the league of Clark’s Mime or Rydl’s Hagen, for exceptional performances like theirs are not the norm.  That Altmeyer carries off one of the most difficult roles in the whole repertoire does her credit, and she is good.  She may give Hagen the information that will make Siegfried vulnerable, but she redeems herself by sacrifice in a greater cause.  When she throws the Ring back where it belongs, she’s rejecting spiritual meanness and troll like grasping for the sake of a higher goal.  She literally saves the world.  In this production, our final sight of the Rhinemaidens blends into the striking image of the background lighting being raised to the level of the stage.  At one stroke, it symbolises the gold shining in the Rhine, and the interrelationship between illusion and reality that is at the heart of all drama.  The stage effects that made this production so remarkable are revealed as stars in their own right.  It is a stunning coup de théâtre.    

Interestingly, different orchestras have been used in this cycle.  The Netherlands Philharmonic acquits itself well, though it’s not as breathtakingly brilliant as the Rotterdam Philharmonic whose exceptionally inspired playing made Siegfried in this series so exceptional (see review). 

Anne Ozorio





Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.