Cow-pig at the New York Stock Exchange: Castorf’s Götterdämmerung on DG Stage from Bayreuth

GermanyGermany Wagner, Götterdämmerung: Soloists, Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra / Marek Janowski (conductor). 2016 performance from the Bayreuth Festspielhaus and reviewed when streamed for 48 hours on DG Stage. (CC)

2016’s Bayreuth Festival’s Götterdämmerung (c) Enrico Nawrath

Stage Director – Frank Castorf
Stage Design – Aleksandar Denić
Costumes – Adriana Braga Peretzki
Lighting – Rainer Casper
Video – Andreas Deinert, Jens Crull

Siegfried – Stefan Vinke
Gunther – Markus Eiche
Hagen – Albert Pesendorfer
Brünnhilde – Catherine Foster
Alberich – Albert Dohmen
Gutrune – Allison Oakes
Waltraute – Marina Prudenskaya
First Norn, Flosshilde – Weibke Lehmkuhl
Second Norn, Wellgunde – Stephanie Houtzeel
Third Norn – Christiane Kohl
Woglinde – Alexandra Steiner

We are supposed to start where the second day ended, which in turn was supposed to be on a rock. Instead, Norns (here bag ladies) have constructed what looks like a handcrafted Neo-Pagan shrine on the pavement with a doll as the adored deity – a hymn to the power of the Divine Feminine? The three Norns are nicely contrasted, vocally, Weibke Lehmkuhl authoritative as the first. Stephanie Houtzeel a touch quieter but more subtle, Christiane Kohl is a third whose voice glistens despite being the least authoritative of the three. And what a lovely contralto aspect to Lehmkuhl we hear at ‘Die Nacht weicht’. They’re at the U-Bahn, so there is no rope of fate.

Back to the idea of a van with the Siegfried-Brünnhilde scene, but here it is made to look as if it has a snout of some sort. A pig? Or a Golden Calf? Anyway, the metal cow-pig forms the backdrop to some marvellous interaction between Catherine Foster and Stefan Vinke; out of the van, Brünnhilde takes (another) doll, handing this ‘baby’ to Siegfried. But stranger still is to hear such ecstatic music performed by the two singers sitting next to each other on a bench like strangers debating the weather (the bench is a plank of wood between two barrels, to be accurate).

The orchestra seems to be on even finer form this evening: string accuracy is in particular spectacularly good throughout.

So much for the Act I Prelude, then it’s off to the ‘Döner Box’ kebab shed (it sells pizza, too) for to the Hagen/Gunther scene. The two men are perfectly cast. Markus Eiche’s Gunther is dressed in leather that seems reminiscent of the TV series Happy Days, a sort of Berliner Ur-Fonz. Vocally, it is perfect, and the ideal foil for the even darker voice of Albert Pesendorfer’s Hagen who has the full vocal heft this role requires (a superb ‘Heil Siegfried, teurer Held!’ later, although a slightly – and surprisingly – disappointing Hagen’s Watch). Another surprise, then, that the ‘Blut-Bruderschaft’ duet fails to take on full meaning; musically, it sags.

Allison Oakes’s Gutrune, too, is a consummate assumption of the role. And how she multi-tasks. No doubt Siegfried is sexually awakened now: he is actively rogering Gutrune when he asks what her name is.

We should acknowledge Marina Prudenskaya’s Waltraute for the achievement it is and her ‘Höre mit Sinn’ is magnificent both dramatically and vocally; while realising that the Waltraute-Brünnhilde report on Wotan does feel odd coming from two characters seated on cheap deckchairs (a mirroring of the bench effect, possibly).

Pesendorfer is at his finest in the second act surrounded by his flag-waving vassals (mostly European – including Union Jacks despite the possibility of Brexit – but including the American flag, possibly planting the seed for the trip to New York later). Both Pesendorfer’s presence and his voice are truly authoritative; and the male chorus, too, is resplendent. A pity that later in the act, Hagen and Gunther lose credibility dramatically by being portrayed as comic book villains in the fifth scene (the mime artist returns also, dressed in a bridal veil and with a pram that is actually filled with what look like potatoes). And when Siegfried and Hagen fight, they do it with planks of wood that could easily have come from B&Q (or nearby benches, come to think of it). All this is in dissonance with the musical excellence, which is nowhere in doubt. Janowski directs with absolute confidence, and there is a real feeling of comprehension of musical structure.

The final act finds the Rhinemaidens appearing in the car we saw in Das Rheingold. Dressed like ladies of the night (or is that fishes of the night?), they swig beer while Siegfried steals a drink off a homeless person, whom he later beats up. Vocally, the three Rhinemaidens are impeccably chosen – they act as a perfect team and the equally perfect structural counterweight to the Prologue’s Norns.

With Scene Two, we arrive at the New York Stock Exchange – a World hub of materialism. The death of Siegfried and the ensuing Funeral Music are harrowing, the latter in sound more than dramatically, the Bayreuth orchestra at is most powerful as we see film of Hagen in the woods and of flames. We see Gutrune then, almost destroyed as a person before, amongst the slums, ‘Starke Scheite’ launches the Immolation. Foster, like Vinke, seems to have limitless vocal reserves. Midway through the Immolation music, the scene shifts back to New York with the cow-pig van and also the Rhinemaidens’ car in the foreground. The Rhinemaidens slink out of the car as Brünnhilde speaks of the ravens; amazingly, given the circumstances, Foster and Janowski create the most amazing sense of peace at ‘Ruhe, du Gott’. Again, we switch to Berlin, then back again. Worlds seem to collide, as we return to the NYSE, with the Rhinemaidens trapped in the cow-pig van. Finally, in front of the NYSE, Brünnhilde takes two cans of petrol from the boot – the Rhinemaidens wave lighters from above. The ring is returned to the Rhinemaidens, who then drop it into the fire in an oil drum. Images of a river – presumably the Rhine – are projected above.

A mix of boos and bravos greeted the end, but cheers were exclusively reserved for the cast. Film of Franks Castorf’s bows from the original staging reveal deliberate provocation to be part of his persona as he goads the crowd. Provocative the production certainly is, but it does differ from so many ‘clever’ stagings that shock for the sake of it. Castorf has had much to say in his comments on consumerism, oil, and the nature of heroes. I for one await its appearance on DVD/Bluray with some impatience. 48 hours (the availability of the streams) is not really enough to appreciate the depth.

The true heroes must be Vinke’s Siegfried, Foster’s Brünnhilde, Janowski and, perhaps most of all, the Bayreuth orchestra.

Colin Clarke

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