Lyric Opera of Chicago pares down a Wagnerian epic for a pandemic drive-through

United StatesUnited States Twilight: Gods, a Drive-Through Adaptation of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung: Soloists, actors and dancers, Members of the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra. Performed at Millennium Lakeside Parking Garage, Chicago and reviewed on 26.4.2021 (running through 2.5.2021). (DP)

avery r. young (narrator) in Twilight: Gods (c) Kyle Flubacker

Concept, direction and English translation – Yuval Sharon
Production designers – Jason H. Thompson, Kaitlyn Pietras
Costume coordination – Scott Marr
New narrative poetry – avery r. young
Musical arrangements and orchestrations – Edward Windels
Musical supervisors – William C. Billingham, Eric Weimer

Narrator/Norns – avery r. young
Waltraute – Catherine Martin
Hagen – Morris Robinson
Alberich – Donnie Ray Albert
Woglinde – Maria Novella Malfatti
Wellgunde – Katherine Beck
Flosshilde – Kathleen Felty
Siegfried – Sean Panikkar
Brünnhilde – Christine Goerke
Wotan Double – Henson Keys
Hagen Double – Donald Fitzdarryl

Imagine a drive-through Wagnerian theme park attraction where the world of the Ring plays out a few feet in front of your parked car at various stops within an urban parking garage. Valhalla viewed through your dashboard, performers right in front of you but their sound coming through your car radio. Black-clad ushers acting as stately traffic cops, guiding cars during the ceremonious drives from one tableau to the next while never breaking the spell.

Welcome to Twilight: Gods, a clever and compelling 70-minute, intermission-less condensation of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung for a pandemic era. The brainchild of Yuval Sharon, artistic director of Michigan Opera Theatre where it premiered last October, and a co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago, Twilight: Gods pares down virtually every aspect of Götterdämmerung to core essentials without, remarkably, sacrificing the essence.

Graffiti fills in what is presupposed: ‘Siegfried loves Brünnhilde’ is spray-painted along the initial thoroughfare. When Catherine Martin’s Waltraute sings persuasively about the decline of her father, Wotan, and implores Brünnhilde to return the ring to the Rhine, only a brooding cello accompanies her as she traverses from car to car while we glimpse a frail Wotan in the distance. The nightmarish banter where Alberich (Donnie Ray Albert) tries to convince his son Hagen (Morris Robinson) to kill Siegfried is made all the more nocturnal with bass clarinet and bass guitar weaving around their velvety dark vocal timbres.

To the horn call of ‘Siegfried’s Rhine Journey’ we meet the Rhinemaidens, whose tight vocal harmonies and aquatic movements are given additional underwater ambiance by harp and vibraphone. They try to entice Siegfried, who is sung with clarion naïveté by Sean Panikkar making his Lyric Opera debut. But he is more interested in swooning over Brünnhilde than in giving them the ring, which he has already gifted to Brünnhilde.

When seemingly wayward headlights reveal a hearse after Hagen dispatches Siegfried, our cars become the procession following it through a sea of candles and spotlight-wielding, black-clad mimes to a rocked-up version of ‘Siegfried’s Funeral Music’.

Chicago poet and interdisciplinary artist avery r. young, who introduced the Ring saga as all three Norns in a triple-screen Prologue and has been narrator and guide all along the drive, gives an apocalyptic, gospel-style eulogy portraying Siegfried as a gang-war causality.

Christine Goerke (Brünnhilde) in Twilight: Gods (c) Kyle Flubacker

As Christine Goerke’s Brünnhilde reaches the climax of her Immolation Scene, she calls forth Loge, the god of fire, who makes his entrance masked in a fire-engine red, classic Mustang convertible. He spirits Brünnhilde away while various surrounding vehicles exude smoke from quite realistic interior car fires. It is a uniquely startling effect which you then drive away from while Wagner’s purification music is playing on your car radio.

No, the gimmicky but fun Twilight: Gods does not replace the cancelled full-scale Götterdämmerung that Lyric Opera was set to premiere a year ago, nor the three complete Ring cycles that were to follow. But as other opera companies continue to stream their offerings, Lyric Opera made a refreshingly bold and pandemic-perfect choice that not only attempts to address that gargantuan disappointment but innovatively inaugurates a return to live opera.

The three performance dates sold out quickly, and Lyric turned the final dress rehearsal into a media preview, which is what is reviewed here. Lyric is filming a performance and plans to premiere it in June on the company website.

Dennis Polkow

For more about Twilight: Gods click here.

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