After seeing Gotterdammerung at the Met on Tuesday night and listening to the broadcast on Saturday afternoon, I’m absolutely drunk on leitmotifs, Brunhilde and Siegfried, nasty Hagen and the three dippiest girls in opera, the Rhinemaidens. I had seen the new production of Das Rheingold when it premiered in the fall of 2010, but Robert LePage’s vision doesn’t really come into its own until the last and best of the operas that form the Ring Cycle.
Let’s start with the orchestra because it’s the bedrock of the work. While there’s nothing like hearing Wagner create the world in the key of E-flat major in Das Rheingold, even more virtuosity is necessary for Gotterdammerung. All that brass—seven horns doubling on Wagner tubas, plus bass trumpets and contrabass trombones—not to mention six harps and what sounds like an entire choir of clarinets for the Rhinemaidens’ music. That’s one crowded orchestra pit, but what a sound! Add a conductor who knows what he’s doing, like Fabio Luisi, and it’s six hours of bliss.
The singers. On Tuesday night it was Katerina Dalayman as Brunhilde, and she was wonderful—great sound with a regal take on the character. I loved how, after Siegfried swore on Hagen’s spear, she practically shoved him out of the way to swear her own oath of vengeance as if to say: “You want swearing? I’ll give you swearing!” However, I thought Deborah Voigt, who’s had some vocal issues, brought out Brunhilde’s warmer side on the broadcast, so there was just that little bit extra when she ordered the funeral pyre to be built. By the time she was into the Immolation Scene you felt as well as heard Brunhilde’s overwhelming desire to join Siegfried in death. Jay Hunter Morris, an “overnight sensation,” after toiling for years, was the refreshingly vibrant Siegfried in both performances. He has a brighter sound for the role than you’re accustomed to, but he was certainly easy on the eyes and sang this killer part well. At times he was a bit over-enthusiastic with that sword (ninja Siegfried?), but I enjoyed his performance. Hans-Peter Konig was one evil Hagen, Iain Paterson and Wendy Bryn Harmer were the Gibichungs, Waltraud Meier was fittingly, Waltraute, and Eric Owens made his great return as Alberich. Kudos all around, but I’ve got to say Erin Morley, Jennifer Johnson Cano and Tamara Mumford did a spectacular job as the Rhinemaidens, both vocally and physically in their diving and sliding into the water (I’m dying to know how that illusion was created. No visible wires as in Das Rheingold, and they did not appear to be wearing any type of harness as they did in the earlier opera. It seemed like they could zip down that water slide and pop right back up to the rocks at will).
The set. The Machine has come into its own! Its configurations, from the Norns’ introduction to Brunhilde’s rock to the hall of the Gibichungs to the Rhine itself, were totally apt, and the projections were spectacular. Some patrons were still complaining about noise, generated either from the contortions of the Machine or the whirrr of the projectors, but sitting in the Family Circle I can tell you all was quiet. This was not the case when I saw Das Rheingold a year and a half ago, when the Machine creaked with the movement of even one of its 24 planks, so apparently the production team has worked out some of the problems, at least to my ears.
The work itself. Tomes have been written about Wagner’s Ring, its folklore, its leitmotifs—you name it. Despite its grandiosity, it’s really an intimate work. This is nowhere more apparent than in Gotterdammerung, which while depicting the end of the gods, is really all about this group of human beings whom we see in a full range of emotions. There are few scenes as ecstatic as Brunhilde and Siegfried’s duet, or as wondrous as Siegfried’s Rhine Journey. Wagner makes his death feel as if the earth has split in two, which in a sense it has. Brunhilde’s following monologue and Immolation Scene further ennoble Siegfried as well as displaying her wisdom by returning the Ring to the Rhinemaidens.
I know that in order to truly enjoy the Ring you’re supposed to see all four operas in the space of one week as Wagner intended. Unfortunately I don’t have the time or the funds to do that this season, but I understand the Met will be performing the complete Ring again next year. Until then, experiencing the end of the universe in Gotterdammerung will do nicely.