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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Siegfried: John Treleaven; Gunther: Falck Struckmann; Alberich: Günter von Kannen; Hagen: Matti Salminen; Brünnhilde: Deborah Polaski; Gutrune/Third Norn: Elisabete Matos; Waltraute/First Norn: Julia Joun; Second Norn: Leandra Overmann; Woglinde: Cristina Obregón; Wellgunde: Maria Rodriguez; Flosshilde: Francisca Beaumont.
Symphony Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu/Bertrand de Billy,
Barcelona 2004.
Producer: Harry Kupfer
DVD-all regions
OPUS ARTE OA 0913 D [3 discs: 284:00]

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Götterdämmerung 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. review

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 interpretative purpose.

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 indeed.

In the first act, I was disappointed by the orchestra, playing with insufficient 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.

Anne Ozorio

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