Reliable singing only partially redeems Stuttgart’s disappointing production of Götterdämmerung

GermanyGermany Wagner, Götterdämmerung: Soloists and Chorus of Staatsoper Stuttgart. Staatsorchester Stuttgart / Cornelius Meister (conductor). Stuttgart, 16.5.2024. (DM-D)

Christiane Libor (Brünnhilde) and Daniel Kirch (Siegfried) © Matthias Baus

Director – Marco Štorman
Set – Demian Wohler
Costumes – Sara Schwartz
Lighting – Henning Streck
Dramaturgy – Ingo Gerlach
Chorus director – Manuel Pujol

Siegfried – Daniel Kirch
Brünnhilde – Christiane Libor
Gunther – Shigeo Ishino
Gutrune – Mandy Fredrich
Hagen (and Alberich) – Patrick Zielke
Waltraute – Christa Mayer
First Norn – Nicole Piccolomini
Second Norn – Linsey Coppens
Third Norn – Christiane Kohl
Woglinde – Eliza Boom
Wellgunde – Linsey Coppens
Flosshilde – Martina Mikelić

I came to this performance with high hopes and expectations. Götterdämmerung was the highlight of the many cycles of the magnificent early 1980s Ring at Deutsche Oper am Rhein, conducted by Peter Schneider. Berit Lindholm and Manfred Jung as Brünnhilde and Siegfried made the plot of apparent betrayal under the influence of Hagen’s poison so moving it was almost unbearable, and many spectators were in tears. I had seen Marco Štorman’s impressive Bremen productions of Parsifal some years ago, and of Tito quite recently (see review here). And I had attended Die Walküre in Stuttgart, conducted by Cornelius Meister, before his Bayreuth appearance (he was scheduled to conduct Tristan und Isolde but stepped in for indisposed Pietari Inkinen for the entire Ring in 2022). My expectations and hopes were disappointed.

The frame for the production consisted, literally, of a number of framed paintings inspired by Sascha Schneider (1870-1927), who became known mainly for the paintings used as cover illustrations for the novels of Karl May. Those paintings had been changed to add motifs from the Ring cycle, and depending on the scenes they were used in, they changed size. They were brought on by the Norns and later the Rhinemaidens in boxes normally used for props and carried around randomly by the characters more or less all the time. Brünnhilde and Siegfried inhabited a large but crumbling building with a little veranda by the front entrance. The place where Hagen, Gunther and Gutrune lived looked like a plenary hall, with microphones and seating in a semicircle. We saw this with a frontal view and from the back for different scenes. The Norns looked like the Rhinemaidens, in grey, ill-fitting body suits. Brünnhilde wore a timeless tunic, Gunther a cheap-looking, pink suit, together with a blonde wig. Siegfried put on this outfit to become Gunther’s lookalike and did not change into his real self in terms of clothes until after his death.

Patrick Zielke (Hagen), Daniel Kirch (Siegfried), Esther Dierkes (Gutrune), and Shigeo Ishino (Gunther) © Matthias Baus

The Siegfried of this production was not at all heroic, in any possible way. He was not childlike, or childish either. He was consistently imbecile and annoying, even before he changed outward appearance to become Gunther. How could any woman love this creature? What was Brünnhilde’s love for this person meant to tell us about her? Their love was an altogether unromantic, arbitrary, inexplicable mystery. As a result, the threat to that love, central to the opera’s plot, never existed. Daniel Kirch was very brave to play Siegfried in this way, thus showing loyalty and professional commitment. He sang his 2022 Siegmund with great caution; his voice has developed well since then, but a little too much of the carefree nature of the characterisation probably spilled out to the singing: while supported by a sound middle range, for the higher range, representing most of the exuberance of the words and the action,  Kirch resorted too frequently to crossing the bridge between singing and shouting.

Christiane Libor coped well with the huge part of Brünnhilde. Her voice was strong across all registers and pitch. At times it took just a moment too long for her to gauge the current volume of the orchestra and to adjust her voice to it so as to achieve balance and harmony. Once she had achieved that balance, she maintained it until the end of the section at hand – only to have to reengage in the same process again for the next of her passages. That observation reveals a major drawback of Meister’s conducting for this performance: he seemed to have so much to do to get his ideas across to the orchestra and to keep their playing in flow that he did not have the capacity to attune his music to the needs of the singers as well. The orchestra’s playing, especially some of the more exposed material from the brass, suggested an off day on a larger scale. As in the 2022 Walküre, Meister relished the big sounds, which sounded broad, grand and impressive. For Götterdämmerung, subtlety was lacking, as was differentiation, for example of the motifs in the Immolation Scene.

Christa Mayer had arrived on the day of the performance to stand in for an indisposed colleague as Waltraute. She sang the part very convincingly, drawing on her vast experience, including Bayreuth. Shigeo Ishino and Mandy Fredrich made the most of their roles of Gunther and Gutrune. Oddly, Meister interpreted the fermata relating to Siegfried’s question ‘Gunther, wie heist Deine Schwester’’ / Gunther, what is your sister called’ not merely as a caesura, but as a request for the orchestra to stop playing altogether. Gunther scratched his chin, shook his head, thought long and hard and when the orchestra finally resumed playing, he had fortunately remembered his sister’s name and replied ‘Gutrune’

Patrick Zielke sang both Hagen and Alberich – whose voice Hagen hears in his sleep. A clever directorial idea, this, and Zielke was able to distinguish between the two characters both in the way he played Alberich as part of Hagen’s dream, as if possessed, and by singing in distinct baritonal mode for Alberich – and with a particularly dark bass voice for Hagen.

For the final curtain call, the orchestra had come on to the stage. Oddly, the curtain was not raised properly, only some of the orchestra were visible, orchestra and conductor received some booing, Meister walked ahead to the front of the stage lifting the curtain up himself to get through, the curtain was raised abruptly for another few inches, then stopped, there was hardly any stage light on the orchestra for all this, the curtain fell and the house lights came on quite fast and fully, ending the applause there and then. I suspect this was not an act of sabotage but a genuine equipment failure, though it was in line with some of the problems of the production on this evening.

Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe

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