Switzerland Wagner, Götterdämmerung: Soloists, Chorus of Grand Théâtre, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande conducted by Ingo Metzmacher. Grand Théâtre de Genève, Geneva, Switzerland 23.4.2014. (JPr)
Brünnhilde: Petra Lang
Siegfried: John Daszak
Gunther: Johannes Martin Kränzle
Hagen: Jeremy Milner
Alberich: John Lundgren
Gutrune: Edith Haller
Waltraute: Michelle Breedt
First Norn: Eva Vogel
Second Norn: Diana Axentii
Third Norn: Julienne Walker
Woglinde: Polina Pasztircsák
Wellgunde: Stephanie Lauricella
Flosshilde: Laura Nykänen
Director: Dieter Dorn
Sets and Costumes: Jürgen Rose
Choreography: Heinz Wanitschek
Lighting: Tobias Löffler
Video: Jana Schatz
Dramaturge: Hans-Joachim Ruckhäberle
Chorus Master: Ching-Lien Wu
It is worth reminding anyone reading a review of mine about Dieter Dorn and Jürgen Rose’s new Ring for Grand Théâtre de Genève that I regrettably never saw Das Rheingold last season and only began on the ‘first day’ last November with Die Walküre and then saw Siegfried in January . It is usual at that point in any Ring to comment that time will tell how it will all end but it was very clear that indeed what Dorn and Rose are presenting us is so gimmick-free and – I repeat – almost totally devoid of ‘any head-scratching symbolism’ that what they gives us is just a good story, very well told. They have mostly decided – given an obviously restricted budget – that because Wagner’s Ring is, as I have written before, the near-perfect Gesamtkunstwerk (an ideal mix of text, music and dance) it needs little of the (re)interpretation that its gets elsewhere. If the text requires horses, then we should see them represented somehow and it is the same for Wotan’s two ravens or the Rhine! If statues of the Gods are referred to they should also be seen and all the Wagnerian accoutrements (spear, helmet, breastplate or shield) are there when needed. It is all naturalistic … whilst not entirely realistic.
In 2014 should we expect more of a subtext to what we are shown when we see the Ring? I just wondered having sat through the three operas what director Dieter Dorn, dramaturgist Hans-Joachim Ruckhäberle – or perhaps Richard Wagner – wanted us to believe comes next. At the end, the Rhinemaidens have reclaimed their gold and Hagen has been swallowed up by the billowing cloth that represents the waters that are cleansing the world we have been shown of all its corruption. The (false?) Gods are shown falling to earth – or possibly drowning – but that is it: Wagner doesn’t tell us … so does Dorn need to? Maybe yes … maybe no … but this is not the place to debate this.
We get a modern dress version of a timeless fable acted as if it were Shakespeare with every singer absolutely clear about the meaning of each word they are singing and the mindset of their character. As part of Wagner200 – the London series of events for the recent anniversary – actors were involved in a ‘Ring reading’ when its words were recited to provide ‘a rare opportunity both to experience the richness and subtlety of Wagner’s writing and to thrill to the drama of the text as poetry.’ In Geneva had everyone acted as they did – and instead of singing just spoken their words – then all the audience who knew German would still have been gripped by the unfolding drama. Yes, everyone was that good!
One example will suffice, near the end Brünnhilde sings ‘Ruhe, Ruhe du Gott!’ (“rest now, rest now, you God”), the word ‘Gott’ must reveal all her inner feelings about Wotan. He was all-powerful but ended up pitifully weak and his actions have triggered all the suffering and deaths we see. Brünnhilde now understands why and is content to help him rest in peace but not without – as Petra Lang does so brilliantly in Geneva – putting all the anger and distain over her father’s actions into that one word she virtually spits out: ‘Gott’ may be a small word but never can it have implied so much.
Obviously, had Geneva’s Grand Théâtre access to unlimited monetary resources everything would have even been better than it was. There is no attempt to hide the theatricality of what we are seeing as the side of the stage are clearly seen and extras shift the rudimentary slab-like rocks that are almost ever present. It is all a little too dark at times and when the two ‘ravens’ (in human form) fly off to Wotan to announce Siegfried’s death they rise up to the roof of the stage but were almost invisible even in row 5 of the stalls! At crucial moments a black curtain descends to allow scene changes and all we see is a square outlined in red lights – and although this allows us to wallow in Ingo Metzmacher’s fleet-footed, mellow chamber-like Wagner from the impeccable Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, it does tend to halt the action a little too much. One example is Siegfried’s Rhine Journey where Brünnhilde is cut off at the front of the stage contemplating Siegfried’s gift of his ring when we should perhaps be seeing some video of the waters of the Rhine.
There are two basic sets, those ‘rocks’ with a huge tree trunk stage-left and a big white ‘light box’ with doors and moveable rear walls for the Gibichung Hall and nearby large heads of Wotan and his clan as totems. The Norns reappear from time-to-time roaming the stage after their scene ready to precipitate Wotan’s demise by brandishes flaming torches – and one will indeed set light to Siegfried and Brünnhilde’s funeral pyre. Sometimes at the back of the stage there was a shimmering red curtain for the flames around Brünnhilde’s rock and the river along which Siegfried seems able to raft. The extras waft this river around for the Rhinemaidens encounter with Siegfried and they are imaginatively able to disappears into its ‘waves’ and then reappears somewhere else.
The bigger moments have a sense of tableaux to them when everyone just stands and looks but it is during the one-to-one interaction between two or three characters when Dieter Dorn’s Ring is at its strongest. Siegfried and Brünnhilde emerging after-the-night-before from their cave below ground. She is bare-shouldered, unkempt and bundled up in what looked like a bed sheet and he has the look on his face of someone who cannot believe what’s just happened to him. Petra Lang’s Brünnhilde face radiates her new found love here totally believably as it does her vehemence when her trademark angry pout later returns as she denounces Siegfried in Act II and plots his death with Gunther and Hagen. Gutrune is shown as typically very ‘attached’ to her brother – and at one point they share an elaborate cloak – but she is still open to a new romance, Gunther is suitably ineffectual but has pretensions and Hagen is just an unvarnished bully. Waltraute is a caring sister who cannot comprehend Brünnhilde’s refusal to return her ring to the Rhinemaidens and bring the story to a premature conclusion. With a flowing grey wig – and costumed as Johannes Martin Kränzle’s Gunther – Siegfried-in-disguise forcibly removes the ring from Brünnhilde’s hand and played out like this was more realistic than it sometimes is. Then is there is that splendid Siegfried/Rhinemaidens scene and the open ending Dorn gives us as the Gibichung Hall sinks below the stage. There are many revelatory moments like this throughout this new Ring and if this appeals to you then there are two complete cycles in May, and I believe tickets are still available and if you can go … do!
All the singers are helped by Ingo Metzmacher’s singer-friendly accompaniment in a theatre that I suspect has not the best acoustics. I have heard better Norns (Eva Vogel, Diana Axentii and Julienne Walker) but seldom has there been such a perfect trio of Rhinemaidens (Polina Pasztircsák, Stephanie Lauricella and Laura Nykänen). Luxury casting brought us Michelle Breedt’s impassioned, older-sister Waltraute and Edith Haller’s vulnerable, attractive Gutrune, as well as, the wonderfully acted and sung Gunther of Johannes Martin Kränzle. Jeremy Milner’s Hagen was a little one-dimensional in both presence and voice and at the moment he lacks the necessary villainous authority. Actually Milner sounded more like an Alberich and John Lundgren (Alberich) seemed to have the vocal attack of a Hagen so despite both of them singing well in their own way, this unbalanced their short Act II scene together. I must not forget the lusty and bright sounding chorus who responded well to Hagen’s call.
Siegfried and Brünnhilde were a triumph for John Daszak and Petra Lang. It is great that a British singer can reclaim the role of Wagner’s hero; he shows that it can be sung lyrically, and this – plus good diction, dynamic shading and obvious vocal stamina – makes him a worthy successor to the great Alberto Remedios for those of us with long memories of him in the role. Daszak’s open countenance as Siegfried clearly mirrored his character’s bemusement at what was happening to him at every stage of his ‘journey’ through the opera.
Petra Lang is now the complete Brünnhilde in both voice and her portrayal of a dramatically persuasive real woman. It is the culmination of having taken the time to prepare for her first Ring with a concert version of Götterdämmerung in Berlin and then her first stage performances in Paris in 2013 – and over that time she has just got better and better. Her voice is now unique in that it has equally strong and reliable, lower, middle and upper ranges and her Brünnhilde was sung passionately with some effortlessly gleaming top notes. During a very poignant Immolation Scene (alluded to earlier) she sang with great pathos, drawing her audience along with her through Brünnhilde’s cathartic moments of revelation and redemption. There was some believable chemistry with her Siegfried and they deserved the enthusiastic applause they got at the end of the evening.
For more about the Ring in Geneva visit http://www.geneveopera.ch/.
To read my interview with Petra Lang see https://seenandheard-international.com/2013/08/petra-lang-talks-about-bayreuth-brunnhilde-and-big-voices-to-jim-pritchard/.
To read my interview with John Daszak see https://seenandheard-international.com/2013/09/newjohn-daszak-genesis-of-a-new-british-siegfried-an-interview-with-jim-pritchard/