Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Götterdämerung brings the world, Ring Cycle to a close

Alwyn Mellor (Brünnhilde) and Stephanie Blythe (Waltraute).
  © Alan Alabastro photo

The apocalyptic finale of the first of three performances of Wagner's Ring cycle took place on Friday, August 9 by the Seattle Opera at McCaw Hall as the curtain raised on Götterdämerung.   Sparks flew, relationships crumble and worlds ended, yet somehow the sensation was not as satisfying as I expected.

There were certainly some fine performances; Stefan Vinke's Siegfried was as carefree and naive as ever, and Lori Phillips' Brűnnhilde gave an excellent example of the old 'hell hath no fury' saw, though vocally at times she had difficulty cutting through the dense orchestration. Stephanie Blythe did double duty as the second Norn and a spectacular Waltraute. Daniel Sumegi was a suitably spiteful as Hagen. Markus Brűck as Gunther and Wendy Bryn Harmer as Gutrune were less convincing; vocally Bruck was not as powerful as one would like, and the portrayal at times fell flat. Perhaps it is the nature of the characters, but Gutrune and Gunther were the least emotionally engaging.

 Jennifer Zetlan (Woglinde), Cecelia Hall (Wellgunde), 
Renée Tatum (Flosshilde), and Stefan Vinke (Siegfried).
© Elise Bakketun photo
Some highlights included the delightful idyll wherein the Rhine Daughters almost convince Siegfried to return the ring to them. Jennifer Zetlan, Renee Tatum and Cecelia Hall displayed a spectacular unanimity of timbre and as perfect a blend of sound as one could want. They seemed to be a wilder sort of creature than the other gods and quasi-gods; more akin to Erda or Loge in character, as befits their stature as incarnations of nature. Brűnnhilde's wrath at Siegfried's unwitting betrayal was as frightful in its way as Alberich's or Wotan's imprecations from earlier in the cycle.

It was nice to hear a chorus, and it was particularly well-done; the crowd of soldiers seemed to grow onstage organically as Hagen summoned them, and by the time the large, lusty chorus was there it was great fun to hear them go at it.  Some of the other blocking at times was distracting; Hagen did an awful lot of standing around or slowly walking back and forth without any seeming purpose.

It was difficult to suss out whether it was the performers who were tired, though those who had been onstage for several nights still felt largely energetic, or whether the emotional highpoint of the drama seemed to have been reached in Siegfried; while there is some great music in the final installment of the tetralogy, from a dramatic standpoint it seemed in large part to exist to tie up the loose ends. Since this is my first Ring cycle it is difficult to say with surety wherein the letdown lay but I can say that Götterdämerung was far and away my least favorite of the four.  At the end, it ultimately seemed that the gods got what they deserved. The immolation was cleverly portrayed, and the sets again deserve high praise; Gunther's magnificently carven halls were a beautiful contrast with the rest of the sets, and served well to illuminate the final conflagration.

It has been a spectacular experience, and somewhat emotionally exhausting. There is a curious sort of post-Ring depression; by the time Sunday night rolled around it seemed odd not to have four or five hours of incredible musical drama to attend. One thing that is certain: this first Ring will definitely not be my last.

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