Well it is finally all over – leaving us both bereft and full of hope. No more lectures and no more performances. But as Professor Lees said in his last talk (for this cycle anyway – he has four more to do – a truly Wagnerian effort) we can seek out other Ring cycles the world over and sit through it again and again, energy and finances permitting. It is a great experience to see the four music dramas, as Wagner called them, in sequence, as they were intended to be seen.
Götterdämmerung was, like the others in this cycle (and every other one I suppose), good in parts. It opened well with the Norns stitching back together the curtain torn asunder at the end of Das Rheingold. Through to Brunnhilde and Seigfried still ecstatic on the marriage bed – neither rock nor bed, but rather a dirty old mattress. Ah well, dramatic license – it worked well enough when required. Brunnhilde in slinky satin night wear, Seigfried in boxers but then back into his rugby gear. Both in good voice as they swore undying love to each other.
The strength of this cycle has been the clarity of the story-telling which was demonstrated again in this fourth production. The Gibichung Hall was inventively portrayed as a gym. With Gunther and Gertrune, going through their daily fitness routine – suggesting vacuousness and superficiality -observed sardonically by Hagen. He explains his plan and we see clearly how brother and sister are drawn into playing their dastardly roles.
The introduction of Seigfried into this vipers nest, his acceptance of the fateful potion, falling for Gertrune, swearing blood brotherhood with Gunther, fairly rattles along. Barry Ryan as Gunther and Sharon Prero as Gertrune were both fine in their roles. For once I thought the costumes worked well to illustrate the characters.
Meanwhile back on her rock, Brunnhilde is visited by Waltraute (Deborah Humble – previously Erda) who tries to convince her to give up the Ring. I like this part of the story, which was exceptionally well sung, because it shows how Wotan is hoist on his own petard. Punishing Brunnhilde by having her fall in love and follow the bidding of a man means she chooses the man’s symbol of love (his ring) over saving the gods. The Act ends with Seigfried appearing on the rock in Gunther’s smart naval outfit (he scrubs up well out of the rugby gear) and overpowering Brunnhilde to make her Gunther’s bride.
This final opera needs a very good Hagen. And this production had one in Daniel Sumegai. Well sung and convincingly portrayed. He performed this role in my first Ring, fifteen years ago (!) and I have a soft spot for him in it. He was also Fasolt in Das Rheingold here as well. Still channelling Alphonse Gangitano, brandishing a shiny pistol, but now with accompanying gold braid on his jacket suggesting something nautical, he was suitably sinister. Especially in the harsh light that marked him out from time to time.
Hagen’s Watch was well done. Though I could have done without Alberich’s hands writhing around his son’s head and shoulders. And without the pistol. Less is more. The call to the vassals and their response was suitably thrilling. Brunnhilde’s humiliation (the bit I hate most) passes quickly – probably too quickly for the drama. Then we have denunciation and swearing (improbably on pistols instead of swords) and vows for vengeance. All well done. I liked Gertrune’s tacky (think Kath and Kim) wedding party and the wedding reception looked straight out of any modern wedding planner’s style guide.
Act III was a bit anticlimactic. Seigfried’s interlude with the Rhine-maidens was okay. They sang beautifully. I didn’t like the pistol shooting scene. And the death of Seigfried and his death march were strangely muted. Left standing alone in the middle of the stage, I missed the vassals. When his black shroud (looked a bit like a burkha) was removed he resembled Heath Ledger as the Joker – red hair, white face. A bit disconcerting. Stefan Vinke did a valiant job standing there motionless for half an hour or so. This on top of his continued his fine singing throughout the opera. A ring of floral tributes (still in cellophane a la Princess Diana tributes) was no substitute for a decent funeral pyre. And Hagen just seemed to slink away when warned away from the Ring by Seigfried’s dead hand. Although he came back to be overpowered by the Rhine-maidens at the end. The ravens as a flag was also underwhelming. All contributed to a less than dramatic ending to saved by the fire that finally ran along the building struts representing the Gibichung Hall – thrilling though that was.
Maybe I was just exhausted. It sounded as though the orchestra may have been. I’m not sure that Susan Bullock was a strong enough singer for the finale. She looked the part but did not get the depth of sound required – I know we’re meant be interested in whether she gets the high notes – but timbre is what I was after. Whatever the cause, I didn’t get the spine tingling sense of catharsis at the critical moment. But then, seeking that spine-tingling catharsis is what will keep me seeking out more performances of the Ring Cycle!
Seeing all the orchestra musicians on stage after the completion of another full cycle was a fitting conclusion to the night, and the week. It was beautiful music throughout. All of the soloists handled their parts well – which doesn’t always happen. They certainly got plenty of love from the audience after each performance. It was good to see them recognized for the effort. I expected to see Neil Armfield which would also have been appropriate but he did not emerge.
Once again, here are the reviews, as yet unread by me. And here are the photos – a bit clearer than from our view up in the gods.