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Posts Tagged ‘Götterdämmerung’

Stream Of Pleasure

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on July 18, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Review – Götterdämmerung (Live stream, Bayerische Staatsoper, Sunday 15 July 2012)

Siegfried – Stephen Gould
Brünnhilde – Nina Stemme
Gunther – Iain Paterson
Gutrune – Anna Gabler
Hagen – Eric Halfvarson
Alberich – Wolfgang Koch
Waltraute – Michaela Schuster
Woglinde – Eri Nakamura
Wellgunde – Angela Brower
Norns -Jill Grove, Jamie Barton & Irmgard Vilsmaier

Director – Andreas Kriegenberg
Set Designs – Harald Thor
Costumes – Andrea Schraad
Lighting – Stefan Bolliger

Conductor – Kent Nagano

First of all plaudits and thanks to Bayerische Staatsoper and their sponsor BMW for the inspired and generous live stream of Kriegenberg’s production of Götterdämmerung. If only our own opera companies could find a similar sponsorship deal. Or that the BBC would put their greedy hands in their publicly-funded pockets and support a first-night initiative such as this after such massive investment in their web to the expense of others. Hardly likely – they can’t even manage to stream their own Proms.

But back to Munich and what a wonderful night. I was fortunate enough to see Nina Stemme in her first complete Ring Cycle in San Francisco. And while unfortunately Francesca Zambello & Donald Runnicles delivered an ultimately flawed production, Ms Stemme was magnificent in the role not only vocally – her voice being incredibly rich and multi-hued throughout her range – but also in terms of her characterisation despite Zambello’s poor attention to general attention to character detail in that Californian production.

And in my mind her performance and interpretation in Kriegenberg, even via broadband was magnificent and had grown in dimension.

Having not seen the three other operas in Kriegenberg’s cycle it’s difficult to make more than passing comment to the production. Yet it was obvious that this was a production that had been clearly thought out, lean with, it seemed to me, very little superfluous mannerism or PersonRegie affectation.

The opening scene was Chereau-esque in its post-apocalyptic vision. Stunned people were rifling through postcards while being tested for what could only have been radiation and having their possessions removed in plastic bags by men in protective suits. The three Norns – like unseen spirits – walked among them handling a red ball of fine twine. The frailty of that twine seemed so suitable as it was wound around the shocked and numb people on the stage.

Siegfried and Brünnhilde’s opening scene was sent in the most basic of shacks. Simple planks of wood for walls held together by Kriegenberg’s posse of extras provided the backdrop as Brünnhilde finished painting symbols on her lover’s arms. 1950s starlet was my first impression of Stemme complete with fake blond hair and Siegfried in the more typical garb for Siegfried with an ever so slightly rustic appearance. I guess the symbols had some kind of significance in terms of being protective totems – only seeing Siegfried would confirm this – and thank you to @rossignol for pointing out Brünnhilde’s hair was in direct contrast to the Gods’ own white hair as witnessed earlier on the Norns and subsequently on Waltraute.

Indeed, the scene with Waltraute while not exuding the white-hot emotion of LePage’s production – which was only due to the immense talent and experience of Waltraud Meier – was an insightful moment. Clearly this Valkyrie was slowly descending into insanity as witnessed by her obsessive-compulsive actions and mannerism. Perhaps in realisation of what the future held in store for her and her brethren? The humanity and calm of Brünnhilde in contrast was startling.

Kriegenberg’s cadre then provided a gently modulating Rhine before, in an inspired touch, they morphed into Gibichungs – suited and booted City workers who inhabited the multi-level Gibichung Hall.

Kriegenberg’s “Gewinn” theme of vulgar richesse while obvious was cleverly done complete with rocking-horse-Euro. Gunther and Gutrune – with a mirror image inference of incest harking back to Siegmund and Sieglinde – were suitably brash and brassy in character while Hagen as sinister business associate was simply chilling.

Hagen’s scene with the chorus using mobile phones to take pictures of the happy and unhappy wedding couples reminded me of ENO’s own scene with its tourists. I can only imagine the mobile phone element was to reinforce the city slicker image but the multi-floor stage came into its own here in terms of providing impact.

I have to say the one oddity in the entire production was Brünnhilde’s entrance at this point. Why the paper bag on her head?

The rest of the opera worked well within this set and before Brünnhilde prepared to set the world alight the cast rushed around the set throwing around heaps of paper somewhat reminiscent of the chaos in a company before it is raided. And considering Germany seems to be riding the current economic recession better than most others it seemed as if Kriegenberg’s Gibichung Hall was suddenly a warning against the ultimate consequence of greed. Nice touch.

And in the closing moments not only did the Rhinemaidens appear carefully carrying the returned Rhinegold but – and most poignantly for me – Gutrune took centre stage. As the world imploded around her and Wagner’s magnificent redemption theme soared out from the orchestra, we saw Kriegenberg’s extras return to the stage and wrap themselves protectively around her.

As I have said without seeing the rest of the Cycle it’s difficult to really appreciate or understand Kriegenberg’s overall vision but even within the isolation of this Götterdämmerung his ideas were rich and for the most part seemed well thought out and intelligent.

And overlaid on this was some of the best singing I have heard in a long time. Ms Stemme led an incredibly strong cast from the front. She was in magnificent voice, strong and supple, richly hued and intelligent from her opening bars through to the end of the immolation scene. Never flagging I always feel that the hushed moment in the closing scene at Ruhe, ruhe, du Gott! is telling of a singer’s skills. And here Stemme did not disappoint, floating the phrases magically.

Her Siegfried, Stephen Gould was similarly magnificent. A clear and bright tenor, he had the rarely heard heft and stamina that saw him clear the final act with great aplomb. Again, to his closing scene he remained in complete control of his voice, displaying incredible technique and a musical intelligence as this Siegfried came to the realisation of his first love and final betrayal.

The Gibichungs of Iain Paterson and Anna Gabler were similarly strong in terms of character portrayal and singing ability. Indeed it was one of the best pairings I have seen and heard in a while. Paterson in particular was in fine voice. And the Hagen of Eric Halfvarson, while taking a little while to warm up was a perfect foil in terms of the richness of both his characterisation and singing.

And the three Norns and the Rhinemaidens were equally impressive with ensemble singing of the highest standard.

I have seen Nagano conduct in Munich many times and as ever his was an intelligent and detailed performance bringing out both the grandeur of the score juxtaposed with the more chamber-like moments. And all with well judged tempi. And the orchestra under Maestro Nagano was stunning, producing a rich palette of sound that was discernable even via the live streaming.

Indeed even via iPad this was a stunning production both musically and directorially and I can only wonder what it must have been like in that square in Munich on the big screen let alone in the theatre itself.

Before Sunday evening I was minded to cancel my booking of the cycle in January, but now I am more determined that ever to see it complete – even if Nina Stemme is only singing Brünnhilde in Götterdämmerung.

January 2013 cannot come soon enough.

Flawed in High Definition

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on February 14, 2012 at 8:30 am

Götterdämmerung, The Metropolitan Opera (11 February 2012)

Three Norns – Maria Radner, Elizabeth Bishop, Heidi Melton
Siegfried – Jay Hunter Morris
Brunnhilde – Deborah Voigt
Waltraute – Waltraud Meier
Hagen – Hans Peter König
Gunther – Ian Paterson
Gutrune – Wendy Bryn Harmer
Alberich – Eric Owens
Woglinde – Erin Morley;
Wellgunde – Jennifer Johnson Cano
Flosshilde – Tamara Mumford

Metropolitan Opera Chorus
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Conductor – Fabio Luisi
Director – Robert LePage
Set Designer – Carl Fillion
Lighting Designer – Etienne Boucher
Costumer Designer – Francois St-Aubin
Video Image Artists – Lionel Arnoud

Having seen the Met’s production of Die Walküre live I decided, due to time restraints, to experience the final instalment of Robert LePage’s production through the medium of cinema. Live HD transmissions are proving a bit of a success for the Met and I was intrigued to see how opera would translate to the big screen.

Personally I don’t think anything beats a live performance but clearly watching a live broadcast has its advantages similar to those when watching opera on DVD – you have the best seat in the house and, if the director is worth his salt, the advantage of not missing a single moment of the unfolding drama.

LePage’s production remains dominated by his mechanical set and in his introduction before the curtain went up Peter Gelb, in a well-prepped speech clearly written by his PR team tried to convince that LePage’s production was a combination of Old World and New and was, in fact, something that Wagner would have approved. I have no doubt that Wagner – with his obsession with modern technology – would have been intrigued by LePage’s intention but, with his equal if not overriding passion with both the importance of singing and acting, perhaps he too would have been left more than a little nonplussed.

As I said when I wrote about Die Walküre, the entire production is subsumed by the mechanical set, overshadowed by its hundreds of tonnes of steel, which don’t so much dominate the entire proceeding as suffocate them. Reviews of Götterdämmerung maintained that LePage had finessed his manipulation of the planks and that they had taken a less obtrusive role compared to in the first three operas. To be honest – and perhaps this was because of watching the production in a cinema with its close-ups – I didn’t feel that at all. The set was almost like an extra character that for the most part simply distracted especially as the singers continued – for the most part – to interact with it gingerly. I still remember Deborah Voigt’s fall on her first stage entrance on the first night of Die Walküre but all hats off to the Rhinemaidens who made it all look so effortless although it took me a while before I could relax as they slid down the stage and not think they were going to hit their heads.

Lionel Arnoud’s projections, a critical element to keep LePage’s production alive and bind the narrative, were an odd mix of hallucinogenic wallpapers and non-descript animated scenes that wouldn’t have looked out of place on my laptop. However they didn’t distract too much and there were some nice touches – the ravens in the final act for example.

Singing above all of this was a pretty strong cast. Jay Hunter Morris – as was repeatedly made clear a late stand-in for Gary Lehman – was an impressive Siegfried. It’s difficult to know because I was in a cinema whether or not the sound was ‘assisted’ in the sense that carefully placed microphones are going to ensure the right balance between singer and orchestra, but he clearly had the heft for the cinema-attending audience. He managed to pace himself and there were only occasional signs of strain in his Third Act scene. But while his voice was equally clear and resonant and there were times when I did wish there was a little more colour and inflection in his vocal line. At times his delivery seemed to verge on the bland but I hope that as he develops this role that will change.

Deborah Voigt’s Brunnhilde – one of the most anticipated and analysed debuts in this role for a while I would imagine – had clearly developed in the role since Die Walküre. Interestingly when interviewed during the interval by Patricia Racette she discussed how Götterdämmerung was her preferred opera in the trio in which Brunnhilde appears as Siegfried lies uncomfortably high for her voice. I have to admit that she did give a compelling performance in Götterdämmerung and clearly she – I don’t think I can credit LePage with this considering the lacklustre direction and ‘stand-and-deliver’ style of Die Walküre – had thought deeply about the role and has always been, in my opinion, an intelligent and thoughtful singer-actress. The trouble with HD however is that it does zoom in which isn’t a luxury that is afforded you in the opera house even with the best theatre glasses. For me this meant that every nuance was exaggerated which at times was distracting. I still believe that Brunnhilde is not a role that sits easily within Voigt’s voice and while there didn’t seem to be the level of strain that she suffered in Die Walküre there were still moments when he voice took on a slightly metallic, single dimensional role. However overall this was a strong performance and it would be interesting to see how Voigt handles a complete cycle.

The surprise of the evening for me was the Gutrune of Wendy Bryn Harmer. More normally a cipher or a casting afterthought, Bryn Harmer has a rich vibrant soprano and made the character incredibly human, married with excellent technique. In her interval interview she professed an ambition to sing Sieglinde which would be something to hear. Iain Paterson as her brother was similarly well cast, delivering a believably flawed character and strong singing.

Similarly Hans Peter König and Eric Owens as Hagen and Alberich respectively were impressive. König exuded a calculated malevolence coupled with an intelligent musical performance. The ‘duet’ between father and son – Owens being equally vocally strong and a thoughtful actor – was one of the highlights of the evening even if the direction was slightly awry.

The Norns and the Rhinemaidens – were also impressive. The ensemble singing was closely knit without weak link in the casting. I have to profess to a small chuckle as the Norns rose, Jedi-like, from under the stage. Complete with their hooded gowns they would not have looked out of place in George Lucas’ Star Wars. But they gave a very credible performance and sang beautifully. Similarly, the three Rhinemaidens managed the perfect balance of flirtatiousness and what I always think is gentle malevolence and again, the ensemble singing was superb.

However the highlight of the evening was Waltraud Meier as Waltraute. She brought an intelligence and humanity to the role that made that single scene the most mesmerising of the whole performance in a way I have not seen in Götterdämmerung before. Ms Meier is of course a seasoned performer and an expert interpreter of some of Wagner’s greatest female roles – her Ortrud in Munich and her Isolde in Paris are particularly memorable – and her performance as Waltraute, bringing out the ‘humantiy’ of the role and demonstrating through her entire performance how far the Gods had fallen was truly remarkable. For a moment it lifted the entire opera.

Fabio Luisi has stepped in at the Met after Levine cancelled due to ongoing health problems. I couldn’t quite put my finger on his conducting style in the first act but I am indebted to fellow blogger @The Wagnerian for hitting the nail on the head – “late Verdi without la passione”. Precisely. I missed Levine’s drive and bite.

Overall however LePage’s interpretation of Götterdämmerung was as flawed for me as was his Die Walküre. The staging itself continued to dominate and while in the latter there as some method to his mechanical obsession in Götterdämmerung, where LePage had either run out of creative steam with his own creation or was trying – a little to late – to compensate the end result was even less compelling. In truth – as was the case with Keith Warner’s production at Covent Garden – perhaps seeing LePage’s Ring in its entirety once the novelty has faded, might enable me to see beyond ‘the machine’. But for now the staging remained too obtrusive and the directing of the characters seemed more secondary if not – thank goodness – the afterthought that it seemed in Die Walküre.

And seeing Götterdämmerung as a live HD transmission had both advantages and disadvantages. Clearly the quality of the broadcast and the sound is impressive but you do miss the atmosphere and excitement of being in the audience. Also if the director is worth his salt you do not miss a moment of the action. But what you do not see the entirety of the staging for, of course, the director only lets you see what he wants you to see. In this case, LePage wanted to make sure, it seemed, that the staging itself got ‘star billing’.

Additionally the intense focus on the singers as individuals detracts from the overall sense of an ensemble. No matter how fast the camera is, it cannot compensate for the speed in which – sitting in the theatre itself – the viewer can absorb an entire scene and the characters motivations in a nanosecond.

However I have to admit that I have been nibbled by the HD bug and will return again for Dessay in the Met production of La Traviata in April. But for now, LePage and his Ring remain less human and more machine.

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