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Posts Tagged ‘Wagner’s Götterd’

Although Guy Cassiers’s Ring for La Scala/Deutsche Staatsoper is supposed to be a “ring of the ‘now'”, you would need a crystal ball to discover that, whereas Claus Guth’s Ring for the Hamburg Staatsoper definitely seems to address contemporary issues. I write “seems to”, for the new production of Götterdämmerung is the only one in the cycle I could see – now I am curious to see the rest.  Although Guth follows the cliché of architecture as a symbol of society, his symbology strikes home in a clear way. In the program, he explains that in the beginning of Rheingold, the world still had a clear “architecture” of power:  gods above, dwarfs beneath and mankind in the middle. When Alberich steals the rhinegold, he irrevocably subverts the structure. After that, nothing will be the same – Wotan betrays the principles by which he rules only to finally loose the ring to Fafner, who treasures it in the underground. So the question is – how one is supposed to understand his place in a world whose structures of power are unclear? In this sense, the Volsungs are the characters with whom we, in a very similar world, are supposed to identify with.

The opera starts in some sort of motel room, a place unconnected and far away where Brünnhilde and Siegfried are living their idyll until she realizes that he wants to see the world. He finds it in the Gibichungenhall, a Bauhaus-like structure inhabited by the bourgeois siblings plus Hagen and haunted by the weakened gods and by Alberich. Siegfried is seduced by wealth and also by Gutrune and, without the help of any magic potion, lets Brünnhilde go in order to find himself a place in society. This twist alone could seem contrived, but Guth’s efficient stage direction makes it believable – Siegfried sees in Brünnhilde a motherly figure and acts as a child who has his way knowing that in the end he is going to be forgiven. He will eventually learn by experience that, on letting Brünnhilde go, he had somehow sold his soul and, again without the help of any potion, betrays himself on purpose in the suicidal manouvre of someone who has gone astray and cannot find his way back. Accordingly, his death scene is portrayed in the motel room where he fancies to be in the moment of his death. The immolation scene follows the same structure and seems to explain that this is not the end of the world, but the end of that world. On returning the ring to the Rhine, Brünnhilde opens the path to a new world in a self-effacing attitude. The world she knew has been corrupted by absence of principles and she has made a difference by sticking to hers:  she refused to renounce to love,  for the private sphere had proved to be the only place where one can be at home in an incomprehensible society.

As you can see, plenty of food for thought. It is only a pity that episodes of silliness enfeeble somehow the concept. Siegfried trying to find his way through the Rhine with a city map, Brünnhilde having her corn flakes during Waltraute’s narration and a finally a Siegfried disguised as Gunther upset by the impossibility of having a beer while wearing the tarnhelm – all that is unnecessary and ultimately distracting. Without those cute touches, one could have perfectly understood that Siegfried is childish or that Brünnhilde no longer has anything in common with Waltraute. Other interesting resources are overdone – the ghost-like appearance of gods would be more effective if not repeated every time their names or ideas associated to them are mentioned. Also, the revolving set (Guth seems to have a fetish in this particular stage device) where something is always happening offers unnecessary competition to Wagner’s magnificent orchestral interludes.

Simone Young is a conductor of rare musical organization – textures are always clear, you don’t have to look for hidden woodwind phrases, for they are right there on your face, and, more than that, her sense of pulse is quite remarkable. Because of this unity of beat during a whole act, Wagner’s music sounds especially organic under her baton. The tricky first act was finally the most successful – I cannot recall a Gibichungenhalle scene so fluent and consequent as I have heard this evening. Unfortunately, the second act proved to be the negative side of the conductor’s qualities, since the orchestra was not comfortable following her a tempo-approach; the result was the occasional example of poor synchronicity, unpolished sound and a chorus ill-at-ease. Having to accommodate the needs of her soloists finally backfired in the last act, the sense of forward-movement largely lost and an Immolation Scene overcautious and unatmospheric. All that said, I would be curious of what she could do in this repertoire with a Vienna Philharmonic.

At 61 (but looking 15 years younger than her actual age), Deborah Polaski still commands regal tonal quality as Brünnhilde. She has never been comfortable in the upper reaches, but now she has to tread a bit cautiously up there, with variable results. In any case, the sensitivity, the warmth of her sound, the sheer size of her voice and her intelligence concur to a noble performance. It is only sad that the last scene caught her already too tired for the challenge. Anna Gabler’s soprano is a couple sizes too small for Wagner, but she has hold her own with dignity and is also a good actress. Although Petra Lang got generous applause for her Waltraute, it took me some time to recognize her in a singer with screechy high notes, sketchy low register and dubious intonation, her vehemence largely conveyed through strain. At some point in his career, Christian Franz might have had  one of those bright, natural tenor voices in a more lyric Fach. Today, his Siegfried  exists by means of constant manipulation of vocal resources, note values and pitch, plus a generous serving of parlando effects. Even if one does not like the comedy touches in this production, one cannot deny this tenor’s comedy skills. Robert Bork was a far more positive Gunther than usual, and his grainy, dark baritone can produce some welcome heroic top notes. In this point of his career, John Tomlinson’s  voice has lost the juice in its higher end. Around Siegfried’s entrance in their first common scene, the British bass-baritone had some dangerously patchy moments. Otherwise, his dark and forceful voice and knowledge of Wagnerian musikdrama are assets hard to overlook. Last but not least, the Hamburgische Staatsoper must be praised for the excellent choice of Norns and Rhinemaidens in their ensemble.

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