Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich Opera Festival
Cast of thousands: Götterdämmerung in Munich, with Gould (in boat)
© Wilfried Hösl 2012
Director Andreas Kriegenburg began his journey through Wagner's monumental Der Ring des Nibelungen in February 2012. New productions of the works followed at six-week intervals. The finale, Götterdämmerung, inaugurated the Munich Festival in the Nationaltheater. I attended the performance of July 8.
Kriegenburg has remained true to his general concept. Hordes of youthful extras populate Harald B. Thor's stage, elucidating plot or emotion either physically or psychologically. Kriegenburg has, however, interpreted the Twilight of the Gods as the twilight of the world as we now know it. The Norns weave history in a hermetically sealed room full of radioactive contaminated survivors. Fear and sadness permeate, as young and old clutch their few remaining belongings. Mobile phones abound — much to the amazement of the Norns. By contrast, the lovers' nest of Siegfried and Brünnhilde exists in a naïvely clean, almost sterile atmosphere. Extras conjure up the flowing Rhine and carry Siegfried on his journey to a Gibichung land that is quite simply a modern, twenty-first-century financial empire ruled by an imperious, enormously wealthy and horrendously decadent Gunther. Both he and his sister are used to instant pleasure, sexual and otherwise. We will see later that Hagen, much like his father, Alberich, has to pay for his sexual adventures. The Gibichung Hall has similarities to Hunding's house. A long table-like bar is overstocked with alcohol. There is also rampant incest afoot between Gunther and Gutrune. Employees scurry around in their glass-enclosed offices, each worker equipped with a mobile phone that can be used to photograph, as well as to communicate instantly. A giant rocking-chair in the shape of a Euro symbol is used by Gutrune as a plaything. Gunther and Gutrune are truly despicable creatures in an amoral, gold-worshipping world of managers and financial transactions. The use of mobile phones as a symbol is more than a bit overdone. It is also Kriegenburg's first unsubtle use of a prop. Judging, however, by the number of audience members who photographed curtain calls with their own mobile phones, his commentary may well be dead-on.
Kriegenburg's most perceptive staging was reserved for the scene between Waltraute and Brünnhilde. Waltraute arrives dirty and sweaty in her sister's immaculate abode. In a small gesture that speaks volumes, the former tries to cover up her untidiness, removing her boots in an act of involuntary gentility. The two sisters live in different universes. There is no way they are going to communicate with each other. Another amazing piece of staging was reserved for Alberich's visit to the sleeping Hagen. Alberich hasn't changed a bit. Confronted with the luxury of the Gibichung residence, the old dwarf steals anything that isn't nailed down — from cigars to clothes to alcohol. The rest of Act II was hampered by an overfilled stage and too many mobile phones. Unfortunately, Act III is indecisive — more cluttered than concise. There is fire at the end, but it is at the very rear of the stage, and Brünnhilde walks around rather than into it. There is no vision of Valhalla, there is no water, and no one pulls Hagen into the Rhine. The surprise at the end is that Gutrune is redeemed. Although interesting, this personal catharsis gets no buildup, and after all that we have seen of her, Gutrune's transformation is a bit hard to swallow.
Musically, this was an evening to cherish and remember. Even if she tired somewhat in the role's final measures, Nina Stemme sang and acted an extraordinary Brünnhilde. Her voice has size, quality and range, and she gave unqualified satisfaction. Her outbursts were thrilling; her rage was ferocious, her tenderness touching. Stephen Gould's Siegfried was a tower of strength, bursting with limitless vocal assurance. It is not often that a Gunther stands out significantly, but baritone Iain Paterson gave such a stunning performance of a role full of vocal pitfalls that he deserves showers of praise.
Wolfgang Koch nearly stole the show once again as Alberich. It is hard to believe that one singer can invest a role with so much understanding, but Koch's Alberich has been a standout throughout the cycle. As Hagen, Attila Jun fought with a slight tremolo, but his menacing voice and demeanor won out in the end. Anna Gabler ran the gamut of emotions as Gutrune, looking stunning and singing with confidence. As Waltraute, Michaela Schuster gave one of the evening's best and most emotionally winning performances. The Norns (particularly Jamie Barton as the second Norn) and the Rhinemaidens were all exemplary. The chorus (under Sören Eckhoff) was in superb form.
There are occasional evenings when conductor Kent Nagano does not seem to communicate ideally with his singers onstage, and this was one of them. There were discrepancies, small and not so small, in tempo and pulse. Nevertheless, Nagano's interpretation of Götterdämmerung was architecturally strong, and the proportions of this massive work were all in place.
JEFFREY A. LEIPSIC
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