Pietari Inkinen
Opera Australia Chorus
The Melbourne Ring Orchestra
7 December 2016
State Theatre Arts Centre Melbourne
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedStefan Vinke
BrünnhildeLise Lindstrom
GuntherLuke Gabbedy
GutruneTaryn Fiebig
AlberichWarwick Fyfe
HagenDaniel Sumegi
WaltrauteSian Pendry
WoglindeLorina Gore
WellgundeJane Ede
FloßhildeDominica Matthews
1. NornTania Ferris
2. NornJacqueline Dark
3. NornAnna-Louise Cole

The way the world ends: brilliant Götterdämmerung crowns Melbourne cycle

The applause at the end was long and well deserved. Opera Australia’s Ring has been a triumph of singing and storytelling, and Götterdämmerung was perhaps the most impressive part. Not the most innovative – that would have to be Rheingold. Not the most emotionally touching – that was, unsurprisingly, Walküre. Not the one with the highest standard of singing throughout – that was unquestionably Siegfried. However, the final night did reference several visual themes from the earlier parts, thus providing a satisfying, even thrilling denouement.

While each part of the cycle utilised a crucial piece of set (the mirror in Rheingold, the spiral staircase in Walküre, the proscenium arch in Siegfried), the house frame in Götterdämmerung was the most prominent and stable of these. The norns, played here as seamstresses working on large tapestry, exposed it in the prologue when the thread of fate snapped and the concealing curtain fell down. Initially empty, save for a mattress, the frame was kitted out with treadmill and elliptical machines as the Gibichung’s gym in Act I, transformed into a glossy wedding marquee in Act II, and reverted to empty gables for Act III. The regular rotations of the set suggested the inexorable revolution of the earth. In particular the achingly slow change from Hagen’s watch song to the Brünnhilde-Waltraute scene perfectly complemented Pietari Inkinen’s measured approach to the transition music.

Taken as a whole, Neil Armfield’s Ring doesn’t offer an interventionist ‘reading’, but neither does it succumb to pure nostalgia. The staging mixed the traditional and the modern. One example: while TS Eliot felt the world would end with a whimper, there were bangs aplenty here, since guns replaced traditional spears (the repeated invocations in the text of the “Speeres Spitze”, the spear-point, were replaced by “weapon” in the surtitles). No real attempt was made to avoid anachronisms of armaments throughout the cycle. Hunding brandished a rifle early on, but reverted to a spear for the fight with Siegmund, while Hagen used a pistol on the sword-wielding Siegfried.

For the first two acts, Stefan Vinke was a couple of notches below the superlative level he had reached in Siegfried, but was stunning later, whether flirting with the Rhinemaidens (grabbing one of them in the Trump-endorsed manner), joshing with the huntsmen, or yearning for Brünnhilde in his death agony. The final scene was the excellent Lise Lindstrom’s finest hour as Brünnhilde: her moving Immolation Scene and resonant top notes provided a satisfying seal on the drama.

The role of Hagen is a gift to the singer with the appropriate vocal and dramatic chops, and Daniel Sumegi gratefully seized upon it. He was adept as a schemer, and still more effective when he dropped the mask and appeared openly as the brutal villain. The sheer volume he conjured up in the call to the vassals was thrilling, but his rendition of the brooding watch song was also potent.

Luke Gabbedy was a fine Gunther, matching Vinke oath for oath in the blood brotherhood scene, and later vividly conveying his character’s conflicted feelings. Taryn Fiebig captured Gutrune’s essential superficiality brilliantly (her meringue wedding dress was the perfect costume counterpart). Warwick Fyfe was a marvel of splay-fingered creepiness when he appeared in Hagen’s dream. The three Norns were good, the three Rhinemaidens even better. Particularly worthy of praise was the laser-focused tone of Sian Pendry as Waltraute.

But it wasn’t all about the soloists. At the outset of the cycle, the Rhine was represented by actors, and these again entered with streamers at the end of the Brünnhilde-Siegfried scene, rowing, swaying and dancing during the music of Siegfried’s Rhine Journey. Wagner relaxed his theoretical strictures against the chorus here, and the sheer power of the men singing as Guther’s vassals made us realise what we had been missing.

A prominent theme throughout Armfield’s Ring was the notion of spectacle, evident in the showbiz elements of Rheingold and Wotan’s museum of stuffed animals. The end of the cycle was particularly spectacular: the dead Siegfried stood amid a circle of flowers, and his bride Brünnhilde joined him with a flaming bouquet, like macabre wedding cake ornaments, as the frame structure burned around them. In the last minutes, the backwall was raised to reveal another audience. Here seated on the same steps that led to Valhalla at the end of Rheingold were representatives of all the different communities we had encountered throughout the cycle: bathers, Nibelungs, Rainbow-bridge Marilyns, Gibichungs. The new world order replacing the corrupted, power-shaped universe of the soloists was one populated by the chorus members, actors and dancers.

At the end, another overlooked group had their moment in the lights, when the hard-working pit musicians came on stage to a well-deserved ovation. Wagner was hardly an egalitarian, but for a moment, he lets us believe in this possibility.

David Larkin | 29 November 2016


Götterdämmerung is a difficult work to stage as much because of the sheer immensity of it as for the meanderings, repetition and divergence of the plot. So much of what is expected of the decline and fall of the gods remains unseen; and so much of what is seen is peripheral to the central plot. As with the first three instalments, director Neil Armfield pares back much of theatrical splendour associated with The Ring. He condenses Wagner’s vision for multiple scenes into single locales in a simplified, ideas-driven commentary upon human impact on the global environment. There remains a strong “everyman” element to the characters of Siegfried and Brünnhilde very much in keeping with Mr. Armfield’s intention of creating a work of “peoples’ theatre”.

For characters mystically fundamental to the fate of the world, the Norns are surprisingly ordinary, everyday people. They work repairing the museum diorama which had been savagely torn apart by the giants in Das Rheingold. The now faint illustration of Valhalla is inverted; the whole concept of a home for the gods is a theatrical trick which has become worn and dilapidated with age. Three impressive voices are assembled in this humdrum trio of matrons: Tania Ferris, Jacqueline Dark and Anna-Louise Cole are highly adept in both solo and ensemble moments.

In the first Act, so much happens but so much is reprise of the story already told. Moments of conversation convey huge plot development, stretching credulity in a production so firmly grounded in the ‘reality’ of everyday life. Wagner’s plot moves from being driven by the inherent qualities of character towards the impact of outer influences such as magic potions. Set Designer Robert Cousins has worked meticulously with Costumier Alice Babidge to tell a great deal of the story in visual imagery. The Gibichung Hall is a skeletal barn which stretches over the stage. It rolls into place from impenetrable blackness at the rear and will stay in place for the rest of the production. Gunther and Hagen are naval officers, their sister Gutrune a princess of the bourgeoisie – jewellery, hair and leisure suits for the private gym which is their Hall. They are the pampered off-spring of the nouveau riche, against whom, Siegfried is an unsophisticated yokel. Daniel Sumegi augments his role as Fasolt reincarnated as the equally threatening if more hardened Hagen; his marvellously rich bass booms threat and evil into every corner of the auditorium. Luke Gabbedy’s baritone is a perfect foil to this depth of evil. He is slightly more human, slightly uneasy with the plot to deceive Siegfried but not above accepting the spoils. Taryn Feibig is one of Opera Australia’s most seen and heard artists. Her powerful, supple soprano is a splendid vocal match of the three powerful men with whom she shares the stage.

Stefan Vinke rides the roller-coaster of disposition and mood changes for the character of Siegfried with slick composure. He quickly becomes a boorish braggart, groping the hapless Gutrune and pandering to the “Boy’s Own” image of masculinity pedalled by the Gibichungs. As much as Brünnhilde has transformed into a terrified vulnerable mortal, he has turned into an ‘alpha male’ of the worst persuasion. Mr. Vinke’s muscular heldentenor holds steady throughout this marathon of singing. His voice as robust at the conclusion as it was in the beginning.

Lise Lindstrom goes from strength to strength in this panoply of character traits which defines her role. Her acting skills are consummate and we are totally drawn into her portrait and enthralled by the luscious beauty of her singing. Brünnhilde becomes at once fragile and mortal while maintaining her memories of godliness.

In the second Act, the ribs of the barn become a wedding marquee. In semi darkness, Alberich slides and creeps towards his son igniting the hatred which will destroy them. Warwick Fyfe sustains his chilling portrayal of this character in this brief final appearance. The marquee is festooned with kitsch pink and white floral arrangements and populated by an “everyman” chorus of widely diverse physical proportions. Opera Australia has marshalled a huge chorus for this final show of the cycle. Superbly trained by Anthony Hunt they muster a massive wall of sound rivalling, while complementing the huge orchestral force. This is a wedding of suburban dimensions; an exercise in poor taste with the bride wearing a monstrous concoction of a gown, flanked by brash bridesmaids in lurid cerise. Contrasted with this, Brünnhilde is refined and sophisticated in a chic sheath dress belying the turmoil tearing at her.

Having planned the revenge, betrayal and retribution, the final Act is set to bring the plot to its denouement, the gods to their destruction and humanity towards its redemption. No small task for an essentially blank stage broken only by the skeleton of the barn. Mr. Armflield has returned to the staging simplicity he employed at the end of Die Walküre to focus on the drama inherent in text and score.

The Rhine maidens are now tatty remnants of their former glamour; Siegfried has become the antithesis of a hero telling and retelling his boyhood stories, harking to past glories; and greed, hunger for power and revenge pollute the world. This is the perfect setting in which to kill off any remnants of chivalry and honour; to plunder Earth’s riches for personal desire. In remarkable juxtaposition to the onstage action, a sense of dignity and heroism is returned to Siegfried through Mr. Vinke’s eloquent singing as much as the exquisite orchestral playing in the Death Scene. The character’s quiet demise comes as a contrast to his earlier self-important reminiscences.

“Brünnhilde’s Immolation” is deftly handled by Ms. Lindstrom. Understated staging allows no distraction from the power of words and music depicting her tumult of passion. Her old world is dying from its own over-indulgence and her new world is torn apart by that most human of traits: self-interest. Lise Lindstrom is triumphant as she rekindles the spirit of nobility and courage to achieve redemption. She unleashes a powerful torrent of sound elegantly capturing the many emotions of this final part of the story. The ‘sea of humanity’ from Das Rheingold flood over the stage, laying floral tributes at the feet of the two characters who have now become a hideous travesty of wedding cake decorations. The barn carcass erupts in flames as the rear wall of the stage rises to reveal that the human world has been witness to this downfall of the gods. We can only hypothesise about the lessons they/we will draw from this demise.

This is overwhelmingly good theatre which resulted in a spontaneous standing ovation, enraptured curtain-calls and boisterous outpouring of admiration when the Melbourne Ring Orchestra were brought to the stage to receive their recognition from the audience.

This revival of “The Melbourne Ring Cycle” is a winning accomplishment in every sense: fine music-making and outstanding singing; intellectually challenging staging and design; and dazzling theatricality and entertainment. The production has matured and benefitted from the re-telling.

Gregory Pritchard | Melbourne State Theatre 11/28/2016


Götterdämmerung may be the longest part of the Ring, but it’s also the fastest moving and musically most sweeping of Wagner’s epic tetralogy. As in the other parts of his cycle for Opera Australia, Neil Armfield views it as a stand alone drama, but also allows it to reintroduce themes and imagery from previous operas, leading to a visually sumptuous blazing finale that asks us to consider many of the great themes along the way, not least of which is what is our part in all this. The staging is also blessed with a fine cast of singing actors, crowned by the intensely moving Brünnhilde of Lise Lindstrom, and the magnificent playing of the Melbourne Ring Orchestra under Pietari Inkinen.

In the opening scene, Armfield’s three Norns, dressed as factory workers, are trying to repair what looks like Wotan’s romantic vista –the one the giants ripped their way through in Das Rheingold. There is no way back, of course, and as the curtain collapses Siegfried and Brünnhilde are discovered on a throw-down mattress, limbs entwined, clothing strewn across the floor, all within the framework of a rudimentary shack. That basic shape remains throughout the opera, becoming a hall for the Gibichungs and a marquee for the disastrous double wedding. This strong sense of the domestic and of temporary dwellings is reinforced by the mass of humanity who swarm on to wave off their great white hope as he sets off on his adventures. In a rare directorial misfire, the rather awkward dancing that follows seems out of kilter with Wagner’s glorious musical Rhine Journey.

The Gibichung scenes introduce a thoroughly modern clan, Gunther and Gutrune self-absorbed with their gym equipment and their mineral water. Simple revolves get us from rock to hall and back again, Robert Cousins’ clean-limbed set neatly absorbing Damien Cooper’s unobtrusive but effective lighting. Armfield’s direction at all times is focused on the characters and their considerable dilemmas. Siegfried’s return to win Brünnhilde for Gunther is chillingly done, the repossession of the ring feeling like an appalling act of rape. Its dénouement, as Siegfried lies down emotionless on the mattress, is borderline creepy.

By this part of the cycle, the love versus power dynamic has clarified into one of love versus hate. Alberich, emerging Nosferatu-like from the shadows, is now a shrunken thing of pure hatred, his bloodless son nothing but a self-loathing tool. These two are pitted against the love of Brünnhilde, temporarily thrown off balance by the deceitful circumstances she struggles at first to comprehend. Poisoned by Hagen, Siegfried’s clumsy sexual advances towards Gutrune reveal just how far he has fallen from the heroic ideal (as does his zipping of his flies after his Rhinemaiden fantasy). No, it is Brünnhilde’s journey to reacquire wisdom and redeem the world that will be the thrust of the drama, and in this Armfield is aided and abetted by some stellar acting performances and world-class singing.

Top of the bill is American soprano Lise Lindstrom who has grown steadily throughout this cycle and now confirms herself as one of the finest Brünnhildes on current world stages. This is her first complete Ring Cycle, and although she will doubtless deepen her interpretation over coming years, this is already a powerful and moving performance. Lindstrom’s Valkyrie is supremely human, her progression from sexual awakening, her stern rejection of Waltraute, her subsequent fear and violation, her confusion, desperation, fury and final acceptance are each played out with every nerve-ending bravely exposed. The voice is never lost in the substantial orchestrations – this is Wagner at his most demanding – the crystalline top cutting like a knife through butter and the words coming across with concentration and understanding. The struggle with Siegfried is gripping, her cries of “Betrug!” and “Verrat!” thrilling and heartrending all at once.

Stefan Vinke exhibits the same tireless enthusiasm that he did in Siegfried, his convincing portrayal of the ‘bull at a gate’ hero now incorporating the sense of bewilderment as he becomes increasingly ensnared in Hagen’s toils. His ringing top notes continue to thrill, though he can be a little blunt in his approach at times and the lower tessitura here plays slightly less well for him. Nevertheless, he’s always a model of vocal clarity, capturing the playfulness of his encounter with the Rhinemaidens and rising to a moving death scene.

The three Gibichungs are neatly differentiated, led by Daniel Sumegi’s tremendously powerful Hagen. The rich, dark tone is deployed brilliantly, from pitch-black conversational utterances in the subterranean nether regions of the voice up to the focussed foghorn (in the best sense of the word) required for a bravura Summoning of the Vassals. He slightly overdoes the villainy early on, but soon settles in to give an attractively nuanced account of this sad, poisoned child of an unloving father.

Luke Gabbedy’s Gunther also rings out over the orchestra, his diction and projection well suited to the role. Right now, it feels like he needs a few more years of Wagner before he’s completely inside the fach, but it’s a promising start in what can be a tricky role. Taryn Fiebig’s Gutrune is something of a revelation. Not an obvious Wagnerian voice, it’s refreshing to hear a graceful, lithe singer in a role that can fox the more mature soprano. She’s nimble, well inside the text, and conveys the character’s complex journey from thoughtless wannabe bride through manipulated puppet to bereaved wife and sister.

No weak links in the Rhinemaidens either. Lorina Gore, Jane Ede and Domenica Matthews are delicious as the trio of showgirls, literally banging their heads against the scenery as they wait for the world to revolve back again in their favour. Spot on with the harmonies, there’s not a wobble in sight. The Norns are nearly as successful. Jacqueline Dark is a lyrical Second Norn, her weary seamstress an object lesson in stagecraft. Anna-Louise Cole reveals a Wagnerian soprano to be reckoned with as Third Norn, while Tania Ferris is sympathetic, if a little unsteady on the bottom line.

Completing the cast are Sian Pendry’s convincing Waltraute and Warwick Fyfe’s final turn as Alberich. Pendry has a lovely warm mezzo, but at this stage in her career the voice is a little low key for Wagner’s dramatic demands. Fyfe has been a compelling presence throughout this Ring, and this last hurrah – his wraithlike fingers as eerie as his supernatural refrain of “Schläfst du, Hagen, mein Sohn?” – confirms him as one of Australia’s finest singing actors.

Pietari Inkinen steers his excelent Melbourne Ring Orchestra home, his well-paced reading benefitting once again from some superb playing in the lower brass and woodwind – the clarinet duetting with Brünnhilde is a particular pleasure. The transitions are handled with great skill, especially the moody playout with Hagen on watch and the music for dawn on the Rhine. Siegfried’s Funeral March – with its moving onstage washing of the body – is the climax it should be thanks to Inkinen’s steady hand on the tiller. Götterdämmerung is the only opera in the Ring to call for a chorus, and the second act here is crowned by an earthshattering Vassals scene thanks the OA men’s voices singing with discipline, passion and wonderful technique, the tenors quite unfazed by a demanding top C or two.

There have been many visually arresting images in Armfield’s Ring Cycle, from the fan-dancing Rainbow Bridge to the startling appearance of the wounded and naked Fafner, but none more so than his final picture of the mass of humanity mirroring the audience in the auditorium as we watch Brünnhilde symbolically wedded to the corpse of her murdered lover. As Wagner’s music pours conclusively over us, it’s as good a time as any to reflect on the uncertain world in which we live. And if this Ring has any special object, it is perhaps to make us pause a moment and consider – as Wotan does in Act III of Siegfried – stopping the wheel before it’s too late to turn back.

Clive Paget | November 28, 2016

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 650 MByte (MP3)
Broadcast (ABC Classic)
A production by Neil Armfield (2013)
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.