Paul Daniel
English National Opera Chorus and Orchestra
2 April 2005
Coliseum London
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedRichard Berkeley-Steele
BrünnhildeKathleen Broderick
GuntherIain Paterson
GutruneClaire Weston
AlberichAndrew Shore
HagenGidon Saks
WaltrauteSara Fulgoni
WoglindeLinda Richardson
WellgundeStephanie Marshall
FloßhildeEthna Robinson
1. NornLiane Keegan
2. NornYvonne Howard
3. NornFranzita Whelan

Anyone who has persevered with English National Opera’s Ring cycle will find few surprises in the final instalment. But where the attempt of Phyllida Lloyd’s production and Richard Hudson’s designs to ground every scene in images from contemporary life scored at least a partial hit in last autumn’s Siegfried, the new Twilight of the Gods returns to the relentlessly trivialising approach that so seriously undermined the stagings of The Rhinegold and The Valkyrie last season, and so transforms one of the greatest of all operatic achievements into the soundtrack for the trashiest of TV soaps.

In the prologue, the Norns (Liane Keegan, Yvonne Howard and Franzita Whelan) watch their world fraying and unravelling from the same geriatrics’ TV room in which they had encountered the Wanderer in the last opera, while Richard Berkeley-Steele’s Siegfried and Kathleen Broderick’s Brünnhilde enjoy their domestic idyll in what seems to be a log cabin in the American west. She, in her floral-print frock and little wife’s pinny, sends him off on his journey in a Stetson and cowboy boots, and we watch his progress down the Rhine as a garish video travelogue; that Wagner’s music for the Rhine Journey is one of the great orchestral set pieces in the whole Ring cycle seems to matter not at all.

Gunther and Gutrune seem to be members of the spoilt super-rich living in a health spa, with Hagen as their creepy minder. The wedding is turned into a Hollywood production number, Hagen’s vassals are a riot squad, complete with shields, helmets and a battery of missiles, while during the funeral march members of the crowd carry off Siegfried’s helmet, sword and clothing as trophies; the end of the world comes in a series of sparkling curtains, but at least we are spared more video.

Some of this might be more palatable if the performance was musically more consistent and conveyed its own sense of shape. But Paul Daniel’s conducting is soggy, never promising to provide the dramatic momentum needed, and he draws no more than adequate playing from the ENO orchestra. However, some of the vocal performances are impressive. Berkeley-Steele and Broderick once again stand out; they have a dramatic presence that makes them consistently watchable.

The Rhinemaidens (Linda Marshall, Stephanie Marshall and Ethna Robinson) make a balanced trio even though Lloyd’s handling of their bittersweet scene is unconvincing. Mark Paterson and Claire Weston make as much as they can out of Gunther and Gutrune, but Gidon Saks’s Hagen is too often crooned rather than sung; something more balefully authoritative is called for. But when Andrew Shore’s commanding Alberich makes his brief appearance, the lack of dramatic intensity elsewhere becomes painfully obvious.

None of the characterisations connects with a coherent vision of the work, or seems more than a gloss. Only one of Lloyd’s ideas has any real mileage in it, and you have to wait more than five hours for that to materialise: Brünnhilde’s appearance for the immolation scene dressed once again as a Valkyrie does promise to provide a genuinely fresh kind of dramatic closure to the tetralogy. But even the impact of that is destroyed by the arrival of the rest of the Valkyries (in the process making nonsense of Waltraute’s narration earlier), and finally is made utterly crass by turning Brünnhilde herself into a suicide bomber, strapping explosives to her body to hasten the final destruction of Valhalla. It’s an intellectually lazy way to end, and the cheapest of tricks, but all too typical of this cycle as a whole.

Andrew Clements | Mon 4 Apr 2005

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 593 MByte (MP3)
In-house recording
Sung in English.
A production by Phyllida Lloyd (2003)