Christian Thielemann
Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
1 August 2009
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedChristian Franz
BrünnhildeLinda Watson
GuntherRalf Lukas
GutruneEdith Haller
AlberichAndrew Shore
HagenHans-Peter König
WaltrauteChrista Mayer
WoglindeChristiane Kohl
WellgundeUlrike Helzel
FloßhildeSimone Schröder
1. NornSimone Schröder
2. NornMartina Dike
3. NornEdith Haller

And so we reach Götterdämmerung for which the Prologue and Act I had three simple designs. The first was the starlit sky from the end of Siegfried that had the three Norns standing in front of it on a pile of skulls – or sculls as the error in the English translation in the programme had them. The Norns reminiscences and prophesies seem to be connected with constellations that light up in the firmament that the Norns are reaching towards. Down comes the annoying curtain once more and we are then to be back in the by now over-familiar stone quarry. Then the curtain drops yet again and opens to reveal the stark marble-effect outlines of a superior hotel representing the Gibichungs’ Hall peopled by a few elegantly dressed guests with (strangely) a row of shoes laid out neatly front stage right. Gunther wears a cardboard golden crown but that is a weird as it gets. The swearing of blood-brotherhood is intriguingly done with Siegfried biting his own wrist and Gunther having a vein cut for him by Hagen because he is too afriad to do the deed himself. Hagen is the huge physical presence and deep resonant bass of Hans-Peter König who sits on some stairs to sing his ‘Watch’. Down comes the curtain again – how many times must it be now in this Ring? – and we are back at the quarry through which workman wanders aimlessly during Brünnhilde and Waltraute’s confrontation. Disappointingly, Brünnhilde puts up only the mildest of struggles as Siegfried/Gunther relieves her of the ring.

Christa Mayer, who was very good as Erda, does not have the top notes to make a Waltraute who can command her scene. Ralf Lukas was a rather declamatory Gunther and I enjoyed Edith Haller’s participation in the Act I curtain calls because apparently it was deemed necessary for her to wear a black cloak to receive applause as the Third Norn, and then to remove it to come back out again because she was also singing Gutrune. This kind of thing happened a couple of times and I found it very amusing: but perhaps that is just me?

Christian Franz’s singing began with more nuance compared to how he sang in Siegfried but by Act II some ill-discipline showed through again: he began singing slightly flat and ended by skipping through his high notes while leaving with Gutrune to prepare for his wedding. Franz’s> acting abilities began to impress me more and more however. Dorst makes the older Siegfried a sort of clown in tail coat and baggy trousers, a mixture of a simpleton like Norman Wisdom (or for a younger generation, Lee Evans) and Groucho Marx, with a similar costume and centre parting in his hair. This is not my own idea of Siegfried but is carried off well enough. There has also been another assured vignette from Andrew Shore as Alberich fawning over his son, the rather large Hagen. He summons the vassals impressively and along with a few others appears to be in army uniform from the early twentieth century while the rest of his audience are a collection of the hotel’s decadent guests who seem to have been partying and have now refilled there Trinkhorns. They roll out a red carpet for the arrival of Gunther and Brünnhilde. Nothing much unusual happens here although there was a figure in a rooster costume at the start of the Act and there are revellers dressed as skeletons or as a golden ram to be spotted in the crowd.

Both Gunther and Gutrune continue to be a little disappointing vocally though both act well. By this time, Linda Watson is singing Brünnhilde with a less effortful and more open tone and this boded well for the Immolation Scene to follow. Dramatically, she is not at the same level as the others on stage with her and walks about very carefully – if at all – employing too much operatic semaphore. Christian Thielemann seemed to be pushing on with Götterdämmerung very quickly and though generated considerable orchestral excitement, one feared for the ensemble between pit, chorus and soloists at one fleeting moment. At the end of Act II all the wedding guests had to get through a door stage left and then race right across the stage, with barely time to do so before the music ran out and the curtain closed. Thielemann clearly is one of the foremost current interpreters of Wagner and does not take a single bar the composer wrote for granted. My only minor concern was that unlike Barenboim he may not be a singers’ conductor and might be unwilling at times to breathe with his singers because this might conflict with the organic wholeness of his account of the score.

So are we any clearer about what Tankred Dorst is trying to tell us about the Ring apart from giving us the story clearly? With images of Wotan, Froh, Donner and Fricka displayed early in Act II above the stage, perhaps Brünnhilde and Siegfried are now walking amongst us in our time and space … but so what? Perhaps the collections of empty shoes are in some way an image of the much darker times to come later in the twentieth century? Or maybe not.

For the opening of Act III, we are back to the embankment of the Rhine with its empty plinths and graffiti. The Rhine daughters are messing around at the opening to a culvert reminding us of the river bottom from Rheingold. They are a high-spirited trio, shown now to have grown quite voluptuous and appearing to nearly naked. Just think if they just took the ring from Siegfriedand kept their mouths shut about the curse, then the opera could finish there and then … but Wagner has it otherwise. The courting couple intrude once more as if from another time and that ubiquitous T-shirted boy returns to hopscotch on a front stage murder victim chalk mark. Siegfried is despatched with the regulation spear-under-left-armpit and ‘dies’ with great emotional impact before … guess what? … the curtain comes down for the radiant Funeral Music. One again however, this scene has been presented faithfully to Wagner’s intentions in the most part, though the presence of some rather disinterested partygoers including a red-haired woman who seemed to have forgotten to put on a dress was an unusual distraction. Christian Franz’s performance seemed to veer towards musical theatre towards the end and his boldly acted ‘anti-hero’ occasional covered-up for the fact that he sometimes did not give the notes he should sing their true value. Undoubtedly as often happens in this opera the award to the best all-round performance goes to the singer of Hagen, Hans-Peter König.

For the final scene we are back at the hotel and Siegfried’s body is brought centre-stage, Gunther is quickly despatched by Hagen and Gutrune collapses on his lifeless body. Now Linda Watson as ‘the lady in red’ sings a dramatically impassioned and forthright ‘Starke Scheite’ with vibrancy and heroic tone. However Wagner’s richly-textured music that ends this opera deserves better than a little dry ice, a red glow and a few distressed hotel guests fleeing a localised inferno. The images of the gods ignite and burn and the happy couple we have seen from time to time, wander on again towards the end as does that boy we have seen in every opera : he retrieves the golden crown and is left at the end seemingly rubbing his eyes perhaps not quite believing in what he thinks he has seen. What we all do see though is that large eye representing Wotan’s watching and maybe telling us ‘Kinder, macht Neues!’ For that we will have to wait for a new Ring cycle in 2013 and in 2009 Tankred Dorst’s vision left me full of ambivalence.

Jim Pritchard | Bayreuth Festspielhaus, 12.8.09

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 600 MiB (MP3)
Broadcast from the Bayreuth festival
A production by Tankred Dorst (2006)
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.