Posts Tagged ‘Wagner’s Götterdämmerung’

This is not the first time I have seen Claus Guth’s staging of Götterdämmerung for the Staatsoper Hamburg. I was able to see it right after the première when Simone Young was the conductor (as one can hear in the recording). Although I have not seen the other Ring operas, Mr. Guth, a director I usually find overambitious and all-over-the-place, seems to have pressed the right buttons in his pétite-histoire approach to the Tetralogy, in which the focus seems not to be the cosmogony and eschatology of THE world, but of one’s own personal word. It is, of course, a reductionist approach and a lot is left out, but I have the impression (I would have to see Rheingold and the Walküre to say more about it) that the idea was indeed paring it down to human size and make it a personal experience, something of a Bildungsroman. I have noticed also that the new cast and Holger Liebig’s Spielleitung have made it drier, less silly but also less forceful in terms of theatre. In any case, the sets already look worn out in a distracting way.

As much as in Munich ,conductor Kent Nagano opts for fast tempi and deals with the score almost in an abstract way, as if this the dramatic action had nothing to do with the music. I would say that one almost had the impression that Mr. Nagano believes that the music would disturb the dramatic action, so detached and unobtrusively it leaves all the job of interpretation and expression to the cast. One could conduct Bellini’s I Puritani like that. I have been careful not to use the word “symphonic”, for this would assume that structure and clarity would be the Schwerpunkt of this performance, but that was definitely not the case. The orchestral playing was mostly imprecise (the brass section particularly so) and awkward, and the sense of development very loose. This was particularly harmful in the many recapitulation scenes in this score, in which Leitmotive are showered upon the audience. There the sensation was more of cumulating than building up. The Immolation Scene was particularly short of momentum and organicity, hardly the climax of 15 hours of music and hundreds of pages of text.

I realize now I was unfair to Lise Lindstrom two days ago. The Siegfried Brünnhilde is so impossible to sing that, in the context, of a Ring performed in one or two weeks, most sopranos would simply give up the possibility of success in it and rather save resources for the strenuous but more realistic demands of Götterdämmerung (when they don’t simply delegate it to another singer, as often). In other words, it would be unfair to judge Ms. Lindstrom’s Brünnhilde’s credentials based on her performance in Siegfried. This evening she took the whole duet with Siegfried to warm, but after that sang consistently well. Saying that she is a lyric soprano in a dramatic role would be an oversimplification. There is something sui generis in the way her voice tackles some demands of the dramatic writing, but is dysfunctional in others. For instance, there are lyric sopranos out there whose lower registers are far richer than Ms. Lindstrom’s. In her lower reaches, she treads extremely carefully and some moments cannot help sounding anticlimactic (Ruhe, ruhe du Gott, for instance). Her high notes, however, have the right ping and most often than not flash in the auditorium quite firmly. Sometimes above the right pitch, truth be said. Most importantly, she is not afraid of high notes at all. This evening, she reached the end of the opera in better voice than she started. There was a moment in which one could clearly see that she decided to give the audience a little bit more just because she could. If you saw a “but” coming, you are right. She did handle some very difficult passages really adeptly, the end of acting 2 particularly, but everything generally sounds small-scaled, self-possessed and calculated. I understand that this is probably the reason why she manages her resources so well, but nobody goes to the theatre to admire energetic management. I mean, I left the theatre without a clue of what she thinks of this role.

Andreas Schager, on the other hand, is really “into” his Siegfried. Although he is not exactly an “actor”, he is very much at ease and alert on stage. This means, he is always communicating with his audience. In a very marked manner, but anyway, he is not just a guy providing sounds and making gestures. He inhabits the text and makes his points very clearly. For instance, he has a very unforgiving view of who is Siegfried. His whole performance turned around an exhibitionism that verged on nastiness. This Siegfried is like a star soccer player or a pop star. He can do whatever he wants and gets away with it. The all-out vocal approach to match is effective, of course, but less interesting than what one could hear before in Siegfried. Anyway, Mr. Schager was in rich voice and had more than enough leeway to make a show-inside-the-show in his death scene, mimicking the voice of Mime and producing the Waldvogel lines with flexibility and enough lightness. It must be said that his baritonal voice for the Tarnhelm scene is the most effective I have ever heard.

Stephen Milling offered a surprisingly subtle Hagen. This does not mean that he did not let out raw, slightly off-pitch hei-ho’s as every Hagen does, but everywhere else he seemed to run on “less is more” and this made him a little bit more sinister than usual. This also made sense for a singer not truly comfortable in the upper end of his range. As Alberich, Werner van Mechelen sounded somewhat woolly and had to resort to an emphatic attack that made his delivery closer to speaking. Vladimir Boykov’s grainy, rich baritone at first gave Gunther some gravitas, but he soon got tired and fought a bit with his high notes. Alison Oaks’s Gutrune seemed lighter and more girlish than in Bayreuth. Claudia Mahnke’s mezzo too was a bit softer-centered as Waltraute and the First Norn than I remembered. That did not prevent her from offering an alert accoubt of her narrative. Last but not least, Katharina Konradi’s Woglinde and Katja Piewek’s Second Norn are very well cast.


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Götterdämmerung is the most Italian among the Ring operas – we have a love duet, a revenge trio, a (double) wedding scene, a chorus and a mad scene (sort of). Is that the reason why Fabio Luisi was more at ease here than in Siegfried? To start with, either my ears have been unblocked or there were some large-scale orchestral sound to speak of this time. Strings still leave something to be desired, but I wonder if this is not a result of the conductor’s myopic approach: there are many interesting details in tonal coloring and highlighting of generally obscure motivic references, but the parts too often do not add up to a coherent result. There are micro-objectives – highlighting woodwind here, showing a propulsive rhythm there, helping singers somewhere else but if you try to see the big picture, it will probably be quite blurred.

For instance, this evening, the first scene in the prologue was about color and textual clarity at a funereal tempo, but the ensuing duet most commendably had a whiff of Il Trovatore in its athletic grace. Siegfried’s Rheinfahrt was athletic too, but in a rather clumsy way. The Gibichungenhalle scene had a refreshing conversational pace, but you could hear the space between every syllable during Waltraute’s Narration.

There was something Italian too about the way the orchestra tackled the accompanying figures in act II – bright, articulate sounds from the violins and clean, theatrical attacks, but the energy level was variable and tension had rather a peaks-and-valley than a upwards curve graphic. Act III opened to a rather unatmospheric scene with the Rhinemaids before it settled to a sensitive death scene for Siegfried, followed by a rushed account of the Trauermarsch.

Katarina Dalayman is a warm-toned, elegant Brünnhilde. Some high notes are tense and shorter than in the score, most of them however quite exciting in their sheer volume. She is a subtle performer who offers a dignified, womanly approach to the role. Jay Hunter Morris is predictably more comfortable here. Technique is still irregular and he has too many unfocused, undersupported and pushed moments, but he does have stamina. Sometimes, when all elements are well-coordinated, he produces some exciting high notes.

The low voices shined this evening – Hans-Peter König is a very powerful Hagen, Eric Owens again a dark-toned, frighteningly vehement Alberich and Iain Paterson is a noble-toned Gunther.

Karen Cargill is a capable Waltraute with a strong low register and beautiful mezza voce, but her high notes are not very forceful and she can be a bit fussy. Wendy Bryn Harmer is a reliable Gutrune and the Norns were very well cast (especially Elizabeth DeShong and Heidi Melton).

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Guy Cassiers’s Ring for La Scala/Lindenoper could hardly be described as a story of success. The première of Das Rheingold was able to create the rare event of an almost consensus among Wagnerians (against the omnipresent dancers); Die Walküre hit the news of Corriere della Sera when Waltraud Meier voiced what everybody had already noticed (no Personenregie); then nobody bothered to comment Siegfried, for at that point it seemed like beating a dead horse.

I would dare to say that there was actually some evolution between the first and the second day of the tetralogy: Siegfried is aesthetically superior to these production’s two previous stations. I would even say that Götterdämmerung is a further step from Siegfried. Although the team of dramaturges display an almost psychedelic imagination  and a colorful bibliography in the performance books’ texts, the issues raised by them do not make into the staging (except for a 1889 frieze from a building in Brussels not even remotely connected to anything Wagnerian but used as some sort of centerpiece in the sets); here the story is told with literalness and stand-and-delivery is the sort of acting one would find here. The insight is entirely delegated to Arjen Klerkx and Kurt d’Haeseleer’s aptly atmospheric yet often overbusy videos. All that said, apart from horrendous costumes, the production is more often than not visually striking, coherent and unobtrusive. This hardly sounds positive, I know, but I wonder how much the pressure of being original did not prevent this creative team of doing the most basic task of staging an opera, which is telling the story. Insights are like melodies – you cannot produce them out of willpower. They are either there or not. When one thinks that almost every production of the Ring – traditional or revolutionary – never solve basic scenic problems such as “what should everybody, Hagen particularly, be doing while Brünnhilde sings the Immolation Scene?”, one should think twice before dismissing directors who are just willing to tell the story in a CONVINCING way. For instance, although I still dislike the idea of the Tarnhelm represented as FOUR dancers (Brünnhilde must have thought very confusing that these FIVE people were actually just one man and not a Big-Love sort of group-marriage), the fact is that the Siegfried-disguised-as-Gunther scene is supposed to be violent. Generally, Brünnhilde looks like a very formidable lady overreacting to a clueless guy with a piece of cloth on his head. This evening, even if the whole concept could be refined, the helpless Brünnhilde was practically violated right before the audience’s eyes.

The Staatskapelle Berlin, as in Siegfried, produced exquisite sounds, but Daniel Barenboim would only intermittently delve into the heart of this score. The Festtage is an athletic task for someone in his 70’s and one can see that the marathon of daily conducting big works has its consequences. This evening, his supply of energy proved insufficient in many key moments – a egg-timer approach to Siegfried’s journey through the Rhine made for a rather lifeless Gibichungenhalle scene; act II had a labored and noisy ending, while act III featured an exhausted, superficial funeral march for Siegfried and a Immolation Scene that never beyond correct in spite of a brilliant soloist. In other moments, though, one would feel as in Wagnerian paradise, surrounded by rich, clear and warm sounds used in the service of the drama.

This evening, Irene Theorin was the very example of artistic generosity. She carried on her shoulders the task of generating the expressive impulse of this performance – and she relished the opportunity. She proved again to be particularly warm-toned in her middle-register and in ductile voice, exploring both ends of dynamic range with naturalness. She produced a rare display of dramatic and musical unity, galvanizing every note and every word in the score with her sensitive and intelligent singing and acting. The Waltraute/Brünnhilde scene, for instance, where Waltraud Meier (who should give her long-abandoned mezzo roles a try again) and Theorin showed you everything you should know about Musikdrama, was an experience to cherish. Although she was not as ideally partnered in act II, she offered the ideal balance of power and subtlety Wagnerians dream about.

Again, Waltraud Meier was in very good voice and offered a deep, intense performance both of Waltraute and the 2nd Norn, where she was well partnered by Margarita Nekrasova and Anna Samuil (unfortunately, far less successful as a very metallic and blunt Gutrune). The Rheinmaidens were also very well-matched in spirited performances.

Among the men, Johannes Martin Kränzle (Alberich) proved to be the most convincing, even if his voice is not as dark as one would wish for.  His crisp delivery of the text and dramatic intensity were a contrast to Mikhail Petrenko’s disappointing Hagen. Seeing a young singer in this role – one who has the necessary attitude for it moreover – promised new perspectives, but this singer should take some time for an “engine check”. As heard this week, his singing seems drained of overtones, throaty and constricted, entirely different from what I heard from him in a not distant past. Ian Storey (Siegfried) seemed to be making a tremendous effort that brought about very little sound until he was announced indisposed but willing to go just before act III. After that, although one could hear that he was not well, he could find very intelligent and sensitive solutions to make it to the end. Finally, Gerd Grochowski was a boorish and somewhat rough Gunther.

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I know, everybody has already said everything to be said about the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Ring and I won’t probably write anything new, but having written about the two previous telecasts (and reporting “live” from the Met in the opening night of Die Walküre), I feel compelled to say something about the two last installments in the cycle. First of all, although I had found James Levine’s conducting in Rheingold somehow nobler (if a bit ponderous) than in his previous DVDs and had never been an admirer of Fabio Luisi, this Italian conductor had really proved his Wagnerian credentials in these two operas, especially in Götterdämmerung. Even if you have probably heard more polished orchestral sound and a more purposeful baton in some of the Ring’s almost infamously slacker scenes, Maestro Luisi never denied this score fuel when things had to catch fire: the impulse that propelled the scene often often started in the orchestral pit, not only in the sense of rhythmic alertness (most often than not the case here), but more importantly in the sense that the orchestral phrasing and tonal coloring established the dramatic content of each scene. Even if the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra might yield to the Berlin Philharmonic or the Vienna Philharmonic in warmth or in clarity, its A-team proved itself capable of a wide-ranging tonal palette, including some theatrically exciting raw sonorities that its famous European counterparts are not always willing to try. Some scenes gained a whole new excitement in its “graphic” sound effects as provided by these musicians – the string section in particularly exuberant shape, producing some exciting passagework in almost pre-war transparency.

In what regards the cast, the Met’s microphones are famous for their generosity, and I am willing to hear what my 7 or 8 readers (now that this not a blog from Berlin anymore, I guess I have to downscale its popularity) have to say about these singers. I have to confess I am surprised by Deborah Voigt’s achievements. I still find her dull in her Martha-Stewart-like propriety, complete absence of tonal/dynamic variety, artificial German and lack of emotional involvement (it seems to be all about “see how I can do this very tough piece of singing!”) BUT – at least in these telecasts – she sings it truly healthily and reliably. As she herself says, Siegfried is a bit high for her (and everybody else) and, by the end of it, she is a bit economical about the length of her acuti, but it all sounds like music, and that’s rare. In Götterdämmerung, her endless supply of round, rich, big top notes seemed a bit detached from Brünnhilde’s predicaments, but those were all right truly round, rich, big top notes.

Without being in the theatre and knowing how effective Jay Hunter Morris’s projection is, I’ll compare him to his competition on video and say he has many assets in comparison. First of all, he looks like Siegfried. Second, his acting talents are far from negligible – even if his stage persona is so likeable and congenial that one finds Siegfried incapable of doing something nasty or really violent (as he is supposed to be). Third, it is admirable the way he is determined to SING the role. As much as in his acting, this Siegfried is not about sharp angles – and this is particularly useful for his duets with Brünnhilde, in which there is a welcome drop of matinée tenor in his ardor and intent of liquidity. Naturally, there are moments in which he shows some fatigue (off-focus and squeezed high notes particularly), but even then, the results are smoother than with most. He still has to make the German text more natural – and less American (especially the “l” consonant).

As before, Bryn Terfel is a Wotan for repeated listening. There are many layers of meaning in his phrasing and, if his is not the most tremendous voice in the role, it is one entirely used for the singers’ expressive intents. And he also happens to be in good shape here. Eric Owens is a force of nature as Alberich and Hans-Peter König – differently from his not particularly menacing Hunding – proved to find an effective less-is-more formula for his richly sung Hagen. Gerhard Siegel’s Mime has some echt Heldentenor ring to his voice when he lets it and he is less mannered than most. Iain Patterson has the right voice and personality for Gunter, and I wished Wendy Bryn Harmer could bring more chiaroscuro to her all-purpose performance, for the voice is very appealing. As always, Waltraud Meier finds new things in everything she does. As for Patricia Bardon, I am afraid this is not really her repertoire, good as she is.

As for her Robert Lepage’s production, I’ve noticed I have said the same things the three times I have written about this Ring. I’ll try to say something different this time. Therefore, I won’t develop the “no Personenregie”, “no concept”, “why the fuss about the machine?”-comments. I’ll assume that the Met did want an easy production that would not shock new audiences away, the “novelty” of which would not interfere with the basic (in the sense of “primitive”) reporting of the immediate (in the sense of “superficial”) story-telling. In that sense, this Ring has fulfilled the commission’s requirements. My question is: why does it have to be so atmospheric? By “atmospheric”, I mean – yes, it does create the right atmosphere by virtue of very expensive machinery etc, but when it comes to the precise effects as described by the libretto, well, it is quite underwhelming: Fafner is a Chinese-fair-dragon, Erda comes on and off stage walking like everybody else and, if there is an anti-climax, then this is the immolation scene, which was short of embarrassing, I am afraid. And why does it have to be kitsch? Waters turning red whenever someone is murdered, those cereal-pack-figurine-like sculptures for the Gibichungen Halle – and the costumes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and so forth. I mean – one can do better than this, even if one wants to make a new Otto Schenk production.

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Staging a Ring cycle is probably a director’s most challenging enterprise: the plot is contrived; there obviously is a “message” to deliver, a message not restricted to a specific moment in time, but originally intended to a specific audience (i.e., the Germans); and an added insight, an opinion, a point-of-view is expected. But the philosophic side does not replace the scenic side of the task: you may read all the books or – easier – surround yourself with those very clever people who write the cryptic texts in the program, but if these ideas don’t make into the stage action – and they rarely do, for stage gestures have to be immediate to be effective* – then all that has been in vain.

I am sure that Andreas Kriegenburg has a plethora of ideas about the Ring – and he definitely has lots of ideas (and experience) about theatre in general, but I have the impression that “in general” is the keyword here. For instance, this is a production centered on people: the stagehands are visible, the stage effects consist of choreographies, in the end (I mean in the Götterdämmerung) the world as we know ends because it is not anymore about people and the “redemption through love” music is represented by the seid-umschlungen-Millionen white-clad group from the Rheingold in a collective hug on poor Gutrune. But the problem is that all this seems to follow its own plot while the singers playing Wotan, Siegfried, Alberich et al seem to be a burden the director had to bear in order to tell his story rather then being the story.

This has been more evident in Götterdämmerung than in the other operas: here the action seems to be set in Frankfurt – after all, the Rhine is nearby and the big euro-symbols (very much in evidence – Gutrune is usually seen riding one) in  a bank headquarters’ lobby (the Gibichungenhall) seem to corroborate the hypothesis – not very far-fetched if you bear in mind that the Bundeskanzlerin couldn’t find time to go to the UN environment conference in Rio because the Euro was considered a priority over mother nature. Back to Wagner: as usual, the Gibichungen are shown as new money with ostentatious habits. Their corporative lobby is made of steel and glass, nature is reduced to a Damien-Hirst-style horse sculpture and a Patrick-Blanc-style vertical garden, there are many cleaning ladies in uniform sadistically molested by Gunther (Strauss-Kahn references?), while Gutrune plays the vamp to the executives who respond to Hagen’s calls to arms with mobile phones. However, nobody finds it strange when Hagen has a spear at arm’s length when one is “needed” or when Brünnhilde decides to burn Siegfried’s dead body just outside. What I mean is, the action is updated when the director has an idea about it. When he does not, things are carried out as in the libretto, regardless of how nonsensical it looks on stage.

There are staging problems too. The sets for the bank lobby are too complex to be dismantled and put together; therefore, a structure very similar to a barn was concocted downstage for all the other scenes. Forget about Brünnhilde’s rock – she has to make do with a bench in there. The norns too were transferred to the barn – plus a whole bunch of refugees from Fukushima (these sisters learn their never-ending wisdom from CNN here). The scenes that are too complex for the barn are basically set in the lobby – the Rhinemaidens make a short walk from the Rhine and “swim” on a gigantic Euro symbol.  The end of the world too has not much room to happen: it is shown very far away upstage behind the lobby’s walls in a very believable pyre that does not affect much of the structure however. Hagen basically watches to the whole thing from one corner until he decides, for no specific reason, to shout, “hands off the ring!”, even if the ring had not been there for a while.

In musical terms, the performance is an improvement from the previous installments. First of all, the orchestra had a more immediately Wagnerian sound, in the sense that it was big, rich and very much in the center of events. Second, many of the atmospheric orchestral effects that misfired in the previous evenings here seemed more successfully achieved. Third, the pace tended to be more agile. Actually, when the score has a propulsive rhythmic figure to support it, Kent Nagano would respond to it more or less effectively, but as soon as the structure becomes more fluid, depending on the maestro’s beat to move forward, things tended to sag. But this is a fault one can find in many a conductor who ventures into Wagnerian territory. Although the orchestral sound was usually very beautiful, there were mismatches and the occasional blunder in the brass section too.

When Nina Stemme began to sing, she seemed to be in the Helen Traubel-ian shape she showed in Barenboim’s Valkyrie at La Scala: her middle register was at its most focused and even the low notes were rich and integrated, not to mention that she were handling her lines with almost Straussian fluidity. But – and that was a problem for Traubel too – as soon as things started to get perilously high, this warm-toned Swedish soprano had to push, a bad sign. In her second appearance, she seemed to have recovered and sang with amazing abandon. Act II is a tough piece of singing – and exposed high notes come in plenty. Pushing is something that works once, twice, but not three times in this kind of writing without evident loss of quality. At this point, many low passages were just hinted at, some consonants had been left to imagination, breath pauses started to grow in number and a couple of high notes were shortened. Although she was evidently unhappy about that (she appeared at curtain calls puffing in relief), she was able to keep up with the dramatic demands of the scene. Fortunately, Wagner gives the soprano some time to rest before the Immolation Scene, which she negotiated expertly until things became high and fast again. Then she proved to have nerves of steel and managed out of technique and willpower, for she was reaching the very end of her resources. This is the first time I see her in this opera and don’t know if she was below her usual form – it seemed her voice was dying to sing Sieglinde, so velvety and voluminous were his middle and low registers – but if the role’s high tessitura is usually that demanding for her, I ask myself if it is wise to sacrifice herself in the name of Wagner as she did today. Of course, I have seen sopranos who in their best voice weren’t able to offer something as appealing as Stemme did today, but a hard-day work it was and one could hear that. My respect for her commitment and professionalism – but I wonder if she had found any fun in it.

The role of Siegfried is basically too high for Stephen Gould. This tenor is a shrewd singer with a very solid technique and an untiring voice and thus he sang his part without any serious accidents. This is a basically unsingable role and the fact that a singer has sung it more or less like Wagner wrote it without giving the impression of being about to collapse is already something to be praised, but one who had heard Gould as Siegmund or Tristan wouldn’t recognize in the rather taut vocalism and pinched high notes his customary warm tonal color and poise in strenuous passages. As he was more occupied with getting the job done, his interpretation was restricted this evening mostly to stage action – he has a congenial stage presence and could follow the director’s comedy touches without making them extraneous.

Attila Jun was a very dark-toned Hagen who relished the bad-guy routine with some very earthy singing, but who could be tremulous in some moments. Although Wolfgang Koch could do with less off-pitch effects, his Alberich is sung with such conviction and richness of voice that he can’t help sounding convincing. Iain Paterson was a cleanly sung Gunther – the voice has a restricted tonal palette in this repertoire, but he uses the text expertly and is a very good actor, with a Michael Caine-ian attitude that made the role more interesting than usual. Anna Gabler has developed since I last saw in this role – the voice sounds bigger without any loss of roundness. The direction made the role rather incongruent, but she embraced the directorial choices, relishing the vamp-ish moments. Michaela Schuster was an expressionistic Waltraute, very wide-ranging in interpretation, her mezzo easily projecting in the hall. The Rhinemaidens were exemplarily sung (again Okka von der Damerau is a name to keep in mind), the norns not particularly so (Jamie Barton excepted – a truly beautiful, interesting voice). Since the promising Irmgard Vilsmaier (3rd norn) is being upgraded to the role of Brünnhilde in some quarters and had a bad time with her high notes this evening, I wonder if she shouldn’t make a complete check-up in her technique while it is still time. As Julia Varady once said, a soprano should always sing something like Donna Elvira’s Mi tradì now and then and she’ll see if something is not working properly. Finally, the Chorus of the Bavarian State Opera offered aptly sung with raw energy and commitment.

* I don’t mean that the concept has to be simple – it might be complex as you wish, but what you see on a stage is only what you see on a stage. There are not footnotes on the supertitles.

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It seems that fortunes favors the bold. Although the weather was far from good, I had decided not to see today’s Götterdämmerung and only changed my mind in the last minute. I am glad I did change my mind, for not only was it the best performance by far in this cycle, but also a good performance for any standard. First of all, the orchestra seemed to find its lost affection for Wagner’s music and played with full commitment – and Donald Runnicles did not miss the opportunity to offer an alert and dramatic account of the score. This evening – as it should – the orchestra was very much in the center of the events, eagerly commenting the recapitulation of Leitmotive in the Prologue, heightening the atmosphere in Brünnhilde and Siegfried’s duet, relishing the effects in Siegfried’s journey through the Rhine and so on. It is curious that, last year, the Gibichungenhalle scene didn’t seem to start off, while this evening it was particularly effective in its supple organicity. Although the Waltraute scene did not keep up with the overall animation and the ensuing scene with Brünnhilde and Siegfried could be a little bit more intense, act II regained some of the excitement in spite of some mismatches between chorus and orchestra. The conductor deserves credit for his ability to balance singers’ needs and the intent to maintain a large orchestral sound, especially in the Immolation Scene, soon after an impacting Trauermarsch the climax of which was very coherently built. In a nutshell, this was not the last word in Götterdämmerung, but it was nonetheless a very competently done performance with one or two truly interesting scenes. It is only a pity that the remaining operas in the tetralogy did not show the same level of care and involvement.

After getting off on the wrong foot in Siegfried, Janice Baird seemed ready to clean her records this evening. Although her middle and especially her low registers lack volume, she was well in command of her high notes and produced required dramatic acuti whenever this was necessary. More than this, her phrasing was often clean and consequent (provided there were no low notes on the way). Even if she is not a very specific interpreter, she was not sleepwalking either. A very decent job, considering what one hears around. With her focused, pleasant-toned soprano, Heidi Melton is almost luxurious casting as Gutrune. I couldn’t help noticing she has lost some weight too, the right decision in order to build a career as important as she deserves. Replacing Karen Cargill, Christa Mayer offered a very subtle and expressive if a bit underpowered Waltraute. The Norns (especially Liane Keegan) and the Rhinemaids (I feel badly for singling Clémentine Margaine out, since the three of them were excellent, but a contralto dark-toned and focused as hers calls attention) were all cast from strength from the ensemble.

Siegfried is a role a little bit on the high side for Stephen Gould and yet he can pull it off almost without accidents. Although his tone becomes taut when things get high and fast, he managed his resources expertly reaching his last scene in better shape than most. His voice is refreshingly big and firm, his diction is very clean and, considering the baritonal sound of his voice and his physical frame, he was able to suggest boyishness without looking silly. It was very rewarding to realize how Markus Brück’s Gunther improved since last year – his performance is free now free from the blustering and hamming that disfigured it last time and one could sample the richness and forcefulness of his singing the way it should be. I was also surprised to notice that Matti Salminen, at 66, can still be an effective Hagen, actually really better than he was last year. Only those who knew his younger self could notice the effects of time in a voice still powerful, firm and incisive enough for this key role. Actually, his scene with Alberich had the effect of exposing Gordon Hawkins’s lack of charisma in the role of Alberich.

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If Takred Dorst’s unimaginative production of Der Ring des Nibelungen reached its most bureaucratic in the anachronistic and pointless staging of the Gibichungenhalle as a masked ball in a place that looks like an emergency exit in the Lincoln Center while the guests’ outfit suggests rather the 1930’s, Christian Thielemann seemed to sum up the best and the worst in his conducting in the three other installments of the Tetralogy: the first scene with the Gibichungen was particularly spineless and his reliance in Furtwänglerian-like grandiose perspectives could not make up for the absence of a clearer sense of structure and timing in slacker and more conversational passages. In other moments, when his instincts seemed to invite him to more impact, but the need to accommodate less voluminous-voiced soloists led him astray, one missed more profile and more drama, such as during Waltraute’s narration and, unfortunately, the immolation scene. On the other hand, Brünnhilde and Siegfried’s duet was excitingly and exquisitely handled, the soloists flexible enough not to thwart forward-movement. Even if singers lacked stamina for a truly thrilling act II, the conductor created atmosphere admirably with impressively theatrical effects in his orchestra. In any case, Siegfried’s funeral march was the unforgettable highlight of the whole performance – the powers of nature seem to emerge from the pit in the Festspielhaus. My final impression is that, although Thielemann is often very impressive and sometimes exemplary, he has not given his last word about Wagner’s Ring – what should be considered good news anyway, given the fact that he is a relatively young conductor. After Daniel Barenboim’s amazingly disappointing Rheingold in Milan, I wouldn’t like to establish definitive comparisons, but the Argentine conductor’s recording from Bayreuth shows a similar large-scaled, momentous approach, in which the dramatic gestures and the power to instill emotion in the proceedings are more readily available though.

Linda Watson’s performance as Brünnhilde started on a very positive note – she sang warmly and femininely her first scene. Later, she would ultimately seem too well-behaved for the circumstances. I suspect she is not the right soprano for Brünnhilde’s more outspoken scenes, her round top notes lack the necessary slancio and she is too often overshadowed by the orchestra in the bottom of her range. Edith Haller was a luminous Gutrune who sang touchingly her last scene, a rare achievement in a role that can seem almost intrusive. Although Lance Ryan’s singing is generally short of flowing cantabile, his ease with the murderous tessitura, his ability to shade his tone when necessary and his rhythmic accuracy are extremely welcome – his report of the woodbird’s lines were actually more fluent, more clear and more understandable that those sung by the soprano taking that role on Wednesday. And one must not forget – he is an excellent actor. His stage performance will probably be the one I will compare everyone else’s too from now on. Andrew Shore’s Alberich still suffered from opaque high notes replaced by unvaried emphasis and parlando effects and, if Eric Halfvarson could produce a powerful calling in act II, his voice seemed quite tired this evening. By the end of the opera, he was practically speaking his part. In any case, both were preferable to the seriously miscast Ralf Lukas as Gunther. If Christa Mayer sang sensitively, she still lacked projection as Waltraute. Although one could imagine more dramatic Norns, Christiane Kohl, the fruity-toned Ulrike Hetzel and Simone Schröder (better cast here than as 1rd norn) were excellent Rhinemaidens.

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