Richard Wagner: Götterdämmerung, Royal Opera, Stockholm, 3 March 2008.
The title of this piece is the name of one of the main thoroughfares of Stockholm, by which one enters the city from the airport. It seemed especially appropriate on this occasion, when following a family celebration (which included dinner at the famous restaurant Operakällaren) we had the opportunity to see the final part of Wagner’s Ring cycle in the production which has been developed over the past few years by Stockholm’s Royal Opera. An appropriate curtain-raiser was to see their new Folkopera production of Weber’s Der Freischütz (entitled in Swedish Friskytten, correctly for a performance in their language with the ‘k’ pronounced ‘sh’) – a prototype of German romantic opera, to be followed by its apotheosis.
The present Royal Opera House, completed in 1898, is of elegant conventional design. It is small, seating 1250, only slightly more than half the size of Covent Garden. On this occasion we had centre seats in the back row of the stalls with perfect sight lines. During the interval we enjoyed the best smoked salmon I have had in any opera house anywhere.
Götterdämmerung, although sung in German, was billed under its Swedish title Ragnarök. This, I was told, was because of the resonance with folk-memories of the Nordic mythology on which the music drama is based. The curtain came up on The Prologue, reviewing the Story So Far and what to come, told first by the three ‘Norns’, daughters of Erda, and then in duet by Siegfried and Brünnhilde before his departure to seek adventure, borrowing her horse Grane in exchange for possession of the Ring. In this production the Norns (Helene Ranada, Marianne Eklöf and Annalena Persson, all with beautiful voices) appeared, demurely dressed in white blouses and long skirts, before a large cinema screen depicting three dancers on a rocky outcrop. This seemed a very promising start: were we to see the singers in modern dress in front of a filmed projection of the action? We anticipated this as a means of visualising Siegfried’s journey down the Rhine, the swimming Rhinemaidens, the fateful hunt, Siegfried on his funeral pyre, joined by Brünnhilde on Grane and the final fire and inundation. Alas – whatever had been the original intention of the director Staffan Valdemar Holm, the film added little to the presentation of the drama, other than providing a background of nature more like Swedish lakes and forests than the valley of the Rhine. Instead, the action took place on the stage. Apart from the Hall of the Gibichungs, furnished with large sofas, the ‘scenery’ consisted of rows of cinema seats which served in turn as the Valkyrie rock, the banks of the Rhine where the Rhinemaidens ‘swim’, dressed as characters from Swedish children’s literature and the wood where Siegfried is murdered by Hagen with hunters dressed in lounge suits and trilby hats carrying bows and arrows. There is no horse!
To make sense of this apparent absurdity, one probably needs to have seen the complete cycle so I will not try. Suffice to say that, in spite of the staging which only seriously irritated at Siegfried’s death and at the end, this was an extremely moving realisation of Wagner’s great drama. It was characterised by a clear and sympathetic delineation of the characters in their various encounters. I combine my review with the essence of the story, for the benefit of those unfamiliar with it or needing to be reminded. This expands the lines of the Limerick summary that I gave in the OM Christmas competition, 2000*.
Deceived, through his quaffing drugged wine:
Siegfried arrives at the Gibichings’, home of their King, Gunther, his sister Gutrune both under the influence of their malevolent half-brother Hagen, the son of the Nibelung Alberich who stole the Rhinegold in the first place. (The circumstances of Hagen’s conception are not revealed.) Hagen plans to unite Gunther and Brünnhilde, Siegfried and Gutrune in a devious plot to gain possession of the Ring by drugging Siegfried to remove all memory of the Valkyrie. In this production, all our sympathies are with the unsuspecting Gunther and Gutrune, portrayed as cripples. James Moellenhof as Hagen gives a commanding performance, manipulating the weak siblings sung by Gabriel Suovanen and Lena Nordin, the latter an exceptionally sensitive interpretation, beautifully sung.
The scene changes to the Valkyrie rock (or private cinema), where Waltraute (one of the Valkyries, daughters of Wotan and Erda), sung by Helene Ranada (another outstanding performance, in this scene out-singing Brünnhilde), comes to plead unsuccessfully with Brünnhilde to return the Ring to the Rhine: (‘Daddy has been impossible to live with since it was taken away.’) Then Siegfried arrives disguised as Gunther, now his blood brother, seizes the Ring and returns down the Rhine followed by the real Gunther with Brünnhilde.
Bereaved, by an evil design:
Brünnhilde arrives at the Hall and is bewildered and infuriated to find Siegfried betrothed to Gutrune and vindictively informs Hagen that Siegfried is invulnerable except if attacked from behind.. This scene is the outstanding memory of the production with amazingly accurately characterised duets and ensembles between Alberich (Ketil Hugaas) and Hagen,, Gutrune and a zombie-like Siegfried, Brünnhilde, Gunther and Hagen; here Katarina Dalayman’s performance as Brünnhilde, up to this point rather low-key, comes to life with a wonderful display of the full range of emotion. A hunting party is planned at which Hagen will spear Siegfried in the back.
Back on the banks of the Rhine (represented by the rows of cinema seats) where the Maidens try to seduce Siegfried into returning the Ring but then abandon him to its curse. Transformed to the wooded banks of the river, the cinema seats are now the setting for the slaying of Siegfried. Despite the incongruity, this comes over as powerful drama.
She chose to expire on his funeral pyre:
Except that in this production she didn’t. It was a severe misjudgement of the director to think he could improve on Wagner’s ending to the final episode of this great four-part music drama, reuniting Siegfried and Brünnhilde in death (not to mention Grane). Siegfried’s stretcher is shuffled off into the wings as if to a crematorium, while Brünnhilde stands centre stage in front of screened images of fire, water and Wotan.
The Ring ended up in the Rhine:
On the screen, that is - not between the cinema seats.
The conductor was Gregor Bühl who kept up the momentum throughout. The wind and brass played with great exuberance, if not complete accuracy but they were not balanced by an adequate intensity from the strings, presumably limited in numbers by the size of the pit.
The reader will realise that I regard, rightly, Der Ring des Nibelungen as a fascinating mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous, with a cast either archetypical of humankind or of characters from soap opera. Its fascination is that, in performance, one can appreciate both aspects simultaneously. This production contains both (as when the hero Siegfried arrives at the Rhine following a resounding call on his horn – but without the horn). I shall long remember the scenes in the Gibichung Hall; the final scene I shall try to forget.
Zur Bearbeitung hier klicken