Monday, January 30, 2012

Götterdämmerung: So gut und schlimm es geh'

In a world where the gods don't matter, why should we care about their downfall? In the last installment of his Ring, Robert Lepage has banished the gods to plaster-of-Paris altars, which are exploded (almost comically, I regret to say) in the conflagration of the Gibichungs' hall. An exploration of how the (misplaced?) religious devotion of the mortals is used to justify their own decisions was, however, lacking as far as I could see. The Gibichungs' society, indeed, was surprisingly functional, as were the sibling relationships of Gunther, Hagen, and Gutrune. Theatrically, I felt that this was the best yet of the Lepage productions, but its apparent lack of conviction is a crippling defect. (For instance: the Norns' weaving creates a series of impressive images, but its unraveling is not attuned to the moment when the music registers the horror of "Es riss!") Without either an argument for wider significance to the events of Götterdämmerung, or an ironic commentary on the lack of such significance, the production is reduced to a series of tableaux, which no amount of grandeur can save from triviality.

The musical performances were of a high standard, and offered much to ponder, even if dramatically shackled by the vagueness of the production. Rather than a Götterdämmerung of grandeur, guts, and glory, Luisi gave a reading of the score which was transparently detailed, intimate, even introspective. I really appreciated this--the Rhine journey was at its most gorgeous--although it was perhaps not without its drawbacks. The timpani before Siegfried's death, dying into silence, could have been the last rattle of breath, the last flutter of a pulse; the crash of sound that initiates the Trauermarsch can hardly fail to stun, but I wanted it to overwhelm. The portrayals of the singers were also characterized by impressive emotional nuance, which Lepage must have taken care over (but this is Götterdämmerung, where it is never just about the individual.)

The indispensable chorus rollicked and commented on oath-taking with vigor, receiving deservedly enthusiastic applause. Both the Norns and the Rheinmädchen blended their voices well and displayed considerable vocal beauty in their individual efforts (and none of the Rheinmädchen were injured in their Loreley-rock acrobatics, thank goodness!) Their diction and phrasing was also admirable, giving appropriate weight to their prophetic utterances. Eric Owens, with smooth and authoritative singing, made his appearance as mesmerizing and unsettling for the audience as for Hagen. Waltraud Meier stunned me with the intensity of her Waltraute. She gave her conversation with Brünnhilde with the broken, dazed delivery of a trauma survivor, opening up at the last, in savage desperation, to deliver her distinctively gleaming high notes. I gave my besotted bravas with the rest. Wendy Bryn Harmer gave a sensitive performance as poor Gutrune, with sweet, gleaming tone and expressive phrasing. Her brothers, unusually, were not maliciously manipulative. Gunther, while miserable and insecure, seems decent at heart; Iain Paterson's vibrant, charismatic singing made him sympathetic even at his most his most despicably apathetic. Hans-Peter König, as Hagen, seemed more the tool of fate than its dark-spirited agent. He was inexplicably gentle with his siblings, and even with Brünnhilde. Vocally, he was thrillingly masterful, sinister and snarling by turns (and ah, the swoon-worthy German consonants! Here is his call to the vassals from a recent Bayreuth.)

As the doomed lovers at the heart of the piece, Deborah Voigt and Jay Hunter Morris had such great chemistry that I felt almost voyeuristic. Both of them gave intelligent, emotionally rich performances (yes, I got teary) although both were also occasionally covered by the orchestra. Somewhat to my own surprise, I've found myself becoming a partisan of Voigt's fierce, loving Brünnhilde; her sound warmed up and filled out and drew me in. Her handling of text was really exciting; I resented every syllable that was inaudible, and I loved, e.g., the contrast between Eheweib and Buhlerin, spat at Gutrune. (This, curiously, struck me as Brünnhilde's most openly angry moment; even in the revenge trio, she is numbed with trauma.) Updated: the finale of her immolation scene is here. The issue of balance with the orchestra is not negligible, but that hasn't stopped me losing sleep while brooding over Brünnhilde's fate. Hunter Morris gave a tender and, yes, intelligent Siegfried, and paced himself well through the role's grueling vocal demands. I'm not sure whether a shade of reserve or nerves restrained him, or whether his voice might be just half a size small for this enormous house, but his phrasing was admirable throughout, and his tone expressive. "Brünnhilde, heilige Braut" was my most emotional moment of the evening, as this painful remembering is so clearly an act of recovery and restoration, even as he dies alone, desiring her embrace. And when she lies down next to her hero's body, and kisses him, it is beautiful. But Voigt's triumphant bidding of the ravens, and her giving rest to the weary god, are things in which the audience is asked to believe in spite of the production. The Erlösungsmotiv tells us the world is redeemed; I very much fear that Lepage's vision isn't.

Curtain call photos:
Paterson (Gunther)

Harmer (Gutrune)

Koenig (Hagen)

Hunter Morris (Siegfried)

Voigt (Bruennhilde)


Company and conductor

With production crew


  1. And now I'm actually tempted to see this one in HD, although I stayed away so far. Hmm... Especially glad to hear good news about Brünnhilde.

    1. I'm slightly apprehensive, as I wouldn't want to over-persuade anyone into 6 densely Wagnerian hours! The detail of HD should be a treat with this cast, though; the acting performances impressed from the back of Family Circle. And personally, I thought this was DV's best Brünnhilde of the cycle so far.


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