Donald Runnicles
Chor und Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin
17 April 2017
Deutsche Oper Berlin
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedStefan Vinke
BrünnhildeEvelyn Herlitzius
GuntherSeth Carico
GutruneRicarda Merbeth
AlberichWerner Van Mechelen
HagenAlbert Pesendorfer
WaltrauteDaniela Sindram
WoglindeMartina Welschenbach
WellgundeChristina Sidak
FloßhildeAnnika Schlicht
1. NornRonnita Miller
2. NornDaniela Sindram
3. NornSeyoung Park

End of the tunnel: final outing for Götz Friedrich’s Ring at Deutsche Oper

Wagner really laid down the gauntlet to future directors with The Ring. How do you show people singing while swimming underwater? How does a dwarf turn into dragon, and then into toad? How do you get a horse to jump into a massive fire that is floating on the river Rhine? Deutsche Oper’s answer to this last one is: just don’t. No horse, no fire. So what if it’s the climax of the entire 15-hour saga? Just run to the back of the stage where there is some orange light and then pull a white sheet over everything. That should do it.

Another brow-furrowing moment was the great treacherous murder of Siegfried by Hagen. Remember how you pretended to stab someone at school by putting a stick under their arm so that from the side it looked like it was going through their body? If it’s good enough for the playground, it’s good enough for Götz Friederich.

In many ways this revelatory production, receiving its final outing here in Berlin, reveals deep inconsistencies in Wagner’s epic music drama. The things that we are told by Wagner are not the things that he shows us. We often perceive the exact opposite of what is being sung, but we are expected to believe what we are told.

For example, Brünnhilde sings that Siegfried is the “greatest of all heroes”, and when he dies we experience the glorious fulfillment of his musical heroics. His life flashes before our ears. But is he really great? He is gullible (he drinks any evil potion shoved under his nose); his celebrated courage is not earned by overcoming fear (he is simply too dim-witted to recognize danger); he has no integrity (he’ll happily swear an oath only to swear again that he did no such thing). The best thing he can do is understand birdsong, but he achieves this by licking a dragon’s blood off his hand because it was burning his skin, thereby running roughshod over Norse health and safety regulations.

The mighty power of the Ring itself is only ever spoken of, it is never shown. Its owner supposedly rules over the earth, but the audiences have to take Wagner’s word for it, as we only ever see the ring either not working or being stolen. Each time this happens it is supposed to be exceptional, but it proves to be to rule. You could argue that this is deliberate, and that the power of the gold is just an unsubstantiated rumour, but would you spend 29 years working on an opera about that?

The atmospheric sets were seemingly inspired by H. R. Giger’s design in the film Alien – murky, unpolished interiors containing metallic rib-like structures. Costumes were undistracting and functional, belying the reticence of this production to rock any interpretive boats. This wasn’t a philosophical re-imagining of Wagner’s well known saga.

There were fantastic vocal performances in each main role, and dramatic chorus added heft to the villainy. Hagen, sung by Ain Anger was demonically characterful with a rich tone commanding real dynamic presence. Gunther is probably the best drawn character in Götterdämmerung, as he is the only one struggling with an internal conflict. He is in a powerful position, but too squeamish to fully capitalise on it (he nearly vomits when he has to drink at the blood-brotherhood pact), and in every interaction Seth Carico found a way to reveal his deep-seated cowardice.

The lynchpin of Götterdämmerung, and of the whole tetralogy, is Brünnhilde. Played by Evelyn Herlitzius, Brünnhilde is the only one of the gods with an ounce of sense, though she is prevented from living a full life by the two numbskulls in her life, her dad Wotan and her husband Siegfried. The real tragedy of the opera is that of Brünnhilde, not Siegfried, as we are led to believe. After Siegfried’s death, Brünnhilde sings “he who betrayed me was the most pure” and goes on to praise him to the hilt like a victim in denial. Brünnhilde never gets a proper explanation of Siegfried’s cold-hearted betrayal, and Herlitzius’ portrayal made her frustration come alive with resounding force. She should have chucked the ring in the river and opened a saloon, but instead she chose to commit suicide, kill her horse and deposit the ring at the bottom of the Rhine.

Stefan Vinke was in many ways the perfect Siegfried. Young, dumb, and full of gold. His voice had the kind of bloom that meant he could almost hang on to those long “Heigh-Ho”s indefinitely. He portrayed the naiveté that the role requires as well as suggesting the power that Siegfried hardly realises he has himself. Gutrune and Waltraute were played by Ricarda Merbeth and Daniela Sindram, and both offer splendid foils to the main action.

The impossibility of a perfect production of The Ring Cycle means that it all comes down to musical sincerity, which this performance had by the helmetful. Donald Runnicles was the lion of the pit, coaxing thunder from the brass and wind, and molten magic from the strings. Wagner would have been proud.

Stephen Crowe | 11 April 2017


An Enthusiastic Reception in Berlin for the Final Performance of Wagner’s Ring

Wagner’s Ring has now come to an end at the Deutsche Oper, and this fourth opera was well received. The Götz Friedrich production was, once again, satisfying and the voices were strong, but the musical direction did not meet my expectations.

This was the last performance of Friedrich’s popular staging, which makes one somewhat nostalgic: it’s an attractive traditional production that always pleases and never irritates. One might miss some originality, but it does seem a very suitable way to introduce anyone to Der Ring des Nibelungen.

This time the Friedrich tunnel was present in three scenes: the two of Brünnhilde’s rock and the final scene with the theme of redemption, where Friedrich uses the same picture with which he started Das Rheingold. The Hall of the Gibichungs with its columns and mirrors is attractive; the scenes of the Norns and the Rhine daughters are well achieved; and there is effective special illumination for the fall of the gods and the destruction of Valhalla. The sets and costumes are again by Peter Sykora; appropriately, he came on stage for the bows.

Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I found Donald Runnicles’ musical direction here the least convincing of the four days. His tempos were rather slow, which in itself should not be a problem, but the work requires a great dramatic depth from the conductor and that is where Mr. Runnicles fell short. The culminating moment of the opera, Siegfried’s Funeral Music, was excessively noisy and short on emotion. Overall it has been a solid but not exceptional Ring. The Deutsche Oper Orchestra was warmly greeted by the audience; the chorus also shone.

Evelyn Herlitzius reappeared in the role of Brünnhilde. Her intensity as an interpreter means that her performances are always appealing, and the fact that the timbre of her voice changes at the top is not a big problem. What does become a problem are the shouted notes during Brünnhilde’s Immolation.

Stefan Vinke returned to demonstrate his exceptional power in the part of Siegfried. Beyond his voice, one surrenders to the power of this singer. I have seen more than one Siegfried have problems in the narration that precedes his death, but that was not the case here.

Albert Pesendorfer was a correct though not exceptional Hagen. He dominates the character and has a strong voice, but it gets tight at the top.

Seth Carico did well in the part of Gunther, and the same can be said of Ricarda Merbeth in the part of Gutrune, although the role did not offer her many opportunities to shine.

Daniela Sindram was excellent as Waltraute in the scene of the encounter with her sister, Brünnhilde, and sang with emotion and conviction. She also sang the part of the Second Norn due to Irene Roberts’ cancellation; as Ms Sindram sang from the side of the stage, Anna Klosh mimed the part.

Werner Van Mechelen was a correct Alberich in the scene with Hagen which opens the second act.

The other two Norns were Ronnita Miller, who is luxury casting in the character, and Seyoung Park. There was a change in the Rhine daughters: Martina Welschenbach played Woglinde this time while Christina Sidak repeated her Wellgunde and Annika Schlicht again was Flosshilde.

The Deutsche Oper was completely sold out, and the audience was very enthusiastic. Evelyn Herlitzius and Stefan Vinke got the biggest ovations, but all the cast received strong bravos, and Donald Runnicles and the orchestra were cheerfully acknowledged.

José M. Irurzun | Deutsche Oper, Berlin, 17.4.2017


Farewell to the Time Tunnel

Götz Friedrich, who managed the Deutsche Oper Berlin during the final two decades of the twentieth century, is an era unto himself. Although the Deutsche Oper has been gradually phasing out his Wagner productions since his death in 2000, his Ring cycle, completed in 1985, has not only managed to hang onto its place, but has continued to grow in stature over the course of thirty years and as many complete performances. It may now be time for a new production and a fresh perspective, but the two sold-out – and rapturously received – cycles this month offered an affectionate farewell for a production which has been a part of Berlin’s cultural life for more than a generation.

On the one hand, Mr Friedrich’s staging is unmistakably of its time. That time, the mid-eighties, was the age of Reagan and Gorbachev, of renewed nuclear fears and the laborious end of the cold war. It was also the era of Blade Runner and Miami Vice, and a time when the subcultures of punk, new-wave, goth and industrial could be spotted lurking on the fringes of the mainstream; and while the full ramifications were not clear at the time, hindsight reveals the mid-eighties to have been a crucial stage in the transition between the mechanical and digital ages. Mr Friedrich’s Ring, conceived in the midst of these cultural cross-currents, captures the era in all its messy imperfection. From the industrial nightclub vibe of Nibelheim, to the delightfully goth Valkyries, to a Fafner who could only be described as steam-punk avant la lettre, part of the nostalgic delight of this Ring – a delight which Mr Friedrich surely never intended – is the effortless way in which it evokes the now-distant moment of its creation.

Yet as the curtain – or rather, the large metal blast shield separating the audience from the stage – rose on the Norns in this final performance of the final cycle, Mr Friedrich’s production revealed a curious timelessness. The idea that this tale of creation and destruction was playing out on an infinite loop within a large metal tunnel, the abandoned remains of an advanced but long-vanished civilisation, seemed if anything more jarringly relevant than it did three years ago when it was last performed. In that brief but eventful time, old anxieties from the eighties have begun to resurface and the idea that forces beyond our control are, to borrow Loge’s words, ‘hastening toward their end’ – and taking everything else down in the process – gave the evening a piquancy which both recalled and transcended its eighties origins.

Of the operas in Mr Friedrich’s production, Götterdämmerung is the one that most obscures its setting within the time tunnel. The palace of Gunther, while hardly convivial, has an element of the finite; the grand spaces shared by gods, dwarves and giants are here compartmentalised into the even more confined locations that will witness a very human tale of greed and pride. If Mr Friedrich’s oddly static and uneventful vision of the opera’s final scene has grown no more convincing since its last outing, his sense of the weak, incestuous vanity of Gunther and Gutrune, the wounded pride of Brünnhilde, and the empty heroism of Siegfried remain an example to any directors who would embrace spectacle at the expense of character.

The final performance was provided with singing that, for the most part, grew in stature as the evening progressed. Evelyn Herlitzius, one of the finest Elektras of the present century and also an astonishing Kundry, thrives on the highest of high drama; yet in her opening scene her Brünnhilde seemed oddly tentative, and this physical reticence was paired with a vocal performance marked by overwhelming vibrato, elaborate swoops up to the higher notes, and quieter passages that seemed oddly phrased. Her next, more adversarial encounter with Siegfried was considerably better, and in the second act she was wholly magnificent, hurling venomous lines at her two betrayers and pronouncing her oath on Hagen’s spear with untameable fury, yet entering into the fatal negotiations of the act’s final scene with chilling clarity and resolve. Her tightly-wound dramatic phrasing and captivating presence gave her rapt immolation monologue a similar charge.

As Siegfried, Stefan Vinke was able to summon enough impetuous manner and skirt-chasing arrogance (even before the potion) to realise Mr Friedrich’s conception of a deeply flawed, somewhat unlikable hero. In the early scenes, there was an oddly pinched quality to his tone in all but the most emphatic passages, but this tendency grew less pronounced throughout the evening; indeed, it had disappeared entirely by the third act, in which he dealt elegantly with the taunting of the Rhinemaidens and gave a commanding account of his early years, birdsong and all. As Siegfried’s greatest adversary, Albert Pesendorfer provided the evening with a superb Hagen, fashioned of equal parts intelligence and hatred. His thick, naturally dark-toned bass had no trouble bringing animation and menace to the lowest passages, and his imposing yet deliberate physical manner suggested calculation in every step.

While these three dominated the evening, there were several other noteworthy performances, of which Daniela Sindram’s Waltraute was perhaps the most exceptional. Even in lesser hands, Waltraute’s reunion with Brünnhilde is often the high point of the first act, but Ms Sindram approached the tale of Wotan’s decline with a subtly wrought sense of inner terror and a commanding seriousness that made it easy to overlook the fact that she looked exactly like the token bad girl from some long-forgotten 80s teen comedy. Earlier in the evening, as a last minute replacement for Irene Roberts, Ms Sindram also sung an excellent Second Norn from the side of the stage.

The evening’s other quietly great performance belonged to Seth Carico as Gunther. His tall, thin frame wrapped in a cruise ship dinner jacket, he spent much of his stage time suggesting a man hollowed by shame, watching with increasing unease as Hagen’s schemes unfolded. However his voice – warm and crisp, with natural melodic ease and unforced projection – conveyed a more complex sense of former nobility eroded by forces only partly beyond his control. By contrast, the Gutrune of Ricarda Merbeth – whose performance tended to favour dramatic engagement over vocalic gloss – was more wilful and less dreamy than one often hears, and none the worse for it.

For his brief appearance as Alberich, Werner van Mechelen delivered a live-wire monologue – excitable but, crucially, not exaggerated – that offered a welcome alternative to the narcotic somnolence which often pervades his night-time visit to the sleeping Hagen. It should also be said that the three Rhinemaidens – Martina Welschenbach, Christina Sidak and Annika Schlicht – sung together with great beauty and clarity, raising gentle admonitions to Siegfried, but able to switch collectively in their frustration to a more barbed, hectoring delivery.

Donald Runnicles has an approach to conducting Wagner that rarely draws attention to itself either through exaggerated tempi or excessive idiosyncrasy; it is not showy, but neither is it bland. The opening Norn scene was a model of good judgment – always richly detailed but never so belaboured as to lose the thread of the drama – and the rest of the evening proceeded along similar lines. Although he could whip the orchestra into a convincing frenzy, as he did for the explosion of fire that follows Brünnhilde’s closing monologue, he generally pulled back just enough to let the singers carry the score’s dramatic turning points. The orchestra, despite one or two dubious notes from the brass, gave an heroic performance that lost nothing in texture and clarity throughout what must have been an unusually long evening.

It was inevitable that Götz Friedrich’s Ring had to end; if opera is to remain a vital artform, it cannot be beholden to nostalgia. Indeed, the Deutsche Oper have already declared their commitment to the future by commissioning Stefan Herheim to direct their next Ring, currently scheduled for 2020. If Mr Herheim’s Ring is anywhere close to as inventive as his recent Meistersinger, it promises to be unmissable. Yet as much as we look forward to the prospect of something that will reshape the experience of Wagner’s great cycle to meet the spirit of the twenty-first century, it was an undeniable pleasure to be able to spend a few final evenings among the remnants of Mr Friedrich’s time tunnel.

Jesse Simon | 1 de mayo de 2017


“Vivat Götz!” Der Ring des Nibelungen sagt nach 33 Jahren Adieu in Berlin

Die Götterdämmerung, der letzte der vier Teile des Ring-Zyklus‘ von Richard Wagner, schildert einen teuflischen Komplott, den Tod Siegfrieds, den Untergang der Götter und letztendlich die Erlösung der Welt vom Ring und seinem Fluch.

Die Götterdämmerung-Inszenierung wirkt nicht so angestaubt wie die etwas in die Jahre gekommene Siegfried-Inszenierung, die sich in den ersten beiden Aufzügen nicht ausreichend zu dem Element des Zeittunnels bekannte und sich damit dessen archaischer, zeitloser Wirkung beraubte.

Im Palast der Gibichungen haben die Bühnenarbeiter mehrere Linsen-Elemente aufgebaut, Orwell’sche Big Brother is watching you-Zitate. Durch diese Linsen beobachten die Figuren oft das Bühnengeschehen und sind dabei aus der Perspektive des Publikums selbst verzerrt vergrößert zu sehen. Obwohl die real existierenden Überwachungsmöglichkeiten und -wirklichkeiten inzwischen weit über Orwell’sche Dimensionen hinaus gehen, wirkt das auf der Bühne dennoch ganz gut.

Weniger überzeugend und etwas arg billig ist die Umsetzung der Rheintöchter-Szenen mit Siegfried und ganz zum Schluss mit dem von den Rheinfluten verschluckten Hagen. Auch das große Weltenfeuer und das Ende Brünnhildes werden nicht wirklich kraftvoll genug umgesetzt. Da freut man sich dann doch auf eine neue Version.

Durchweg sehr stark ist die Besetzung! Als Stefan Vinke erstmals in der Götterdämmerung als Siegfried auf die Bühne kommt, sehe ich das zunächst mit gemischten Gefühlen. Eine neue Besetzung wäre mir fast lieber gewesen. Am zweiten Tag des Bühnenfestspiels Siegfried lieferte er im ersten Akt einen stimmschwachen und wenig überzeugenden Titelhelden ab, steigerte sich dann gesanglich gewaltig bis zur vollen Zufriedenheit im zweiten und dritten Aufzug –gefiel aber gemeinsam mit seiner Brünnhilde-Partnerin Ricarda Merbeth darstellerisch wenig in einem hölzern und unglaubhaft wirkenden Liebesfinale.

In der Götterdämmerung ist Stefan Vinke von Anfang bis Ende ein bärenstarker Siegfried! Mit jederzeit kraftvoll-voluminöser Heldenstimme und herrlich unschuldig-naiver Ausstrahlung taugt Vinke mit der dieser Leistung als beispielhafte Verkörperung des Siegfried. Souverän. Großartig. Wunderbar. Auch hat er heute eine phantastische Cremigkeit in seiner Stimme. Und er beweist Variabilität: Als er in Gunthers Gestalt die Braut raubt und hier überzeugend als Bariton singt, ist seine Stimme nicht wiederzuerkennen – kaum zu glauben, dass wirklich der Siegfried-Darsteller Stefan Vinke mit dunklen Haaren in Gunthers an Dracula erinnerndem Spitzkragenkostüm steckt. Er meistert auch die fremden tieferen Lagen bravourös und sehr klangschön.

Evelyn Herlitzius als Brünnhilde begeistert mit in den Höhen glockenheller und prächtig strahlender Stimme: mächtig, in Momenten leicht markerschütternd. Darunter, in mittleren und tiefen Lagen, wirkt die Stimme allerdings ab und zu etwas zu dünn und fragil. Das Publikum begeistert sie offensichtlich von allen am Ende gefeierten Gesangskünstlern am meisten: Sie erhält den größten Applaus.

Ricarda Merbeth verkörpert solide die Gutrune, in den Höhen gelegentlich etwas ins Kreischende gehend, in mittleren und tieferen Lagen hin und wieder etwas dünn.

Daniela Sindram singt die Walküre Waltraud stark! Glockenhell, kraftvoll strahlend. Nur wenn es mal sehr schnell wird zeigt ihre Stimme kleinere Schwächen. Sehr schön singen die drei Nornen, bei denen Daniela Sindram an diesem Abend einer von ihnen vom Bühnenrand aus ihre Stimme schenkt.

Die Rheintöchter betören ganz wundervoll in ihrem ersten Gesang, können das makellose Niveau im weiteren Verlauf allerdings nicht halten, verlieren an Stimmeskraft und Klangschönheit.

Nun zu den absoluten Highlights der Aufführung, den Großartigsten innerhalb einer sehr starken Besetzung: Eine wunderbare Überraschung und Offenbarung ist Seth Carico als Gunther. Er liefert eine Weltklasse-Leistung ab! Besser kann man diese Rolle des Gunther nicht spielen und singen. Seine Stimme ist unglaublich voluminös, herrlich warm und sonor in den Tiefen und ohne Schwächen in seinem gesamten großen Spektrum. Das Überraschende: Diese mächtige Stimme traut man seiner sehr schlanken und relativ zierlichen Figur nicht zu. Er ist Teil des Ensembles der Deutschen Oper Berlin – und dürfte noch für viele unvergessliche Abende gut sein.

Neben Seth Carico begeistert Ain Anger als Hagen. Seine Stimme ist gewaltig! Sein tiefer Bass ist herrlich schön sonor, wunderbar geerdet und natürlich. Auch in gelegentlichen höheren Lagen ist seine voluminöse Stimme klangschön und extrem souverän. Anger ist für den krankheitsbedingt ausgefallenen Albert Pesendorfer sehr kurzfristig eingesprungen, und es ist wunderbar, wie er sich ohne gemeinsame Bühnenproben auch darstellerisch nahtlos in das Ensemble einfügt und uneingeschränkt überzeugt.

Das Orchester unter Donald Runnicles spielt im ersten Aufzug gelegentlich etwas holprig und unrund, bietet im weiteren Verlauf aber eine schöne klangliche Umsetzung der sehr fordernden Partitur Richard Wagners. In den perfekten und absolut mitreißenden Fluss wie noch bei der Walküre eine Woche zuvor kamen die Musiker.

„Vivat Götz!“ ruft ein Zuschauer aus dem Parkett, nachdem der letzte Ton der Götterdämmerung verklungen ist und der gewaltige, 33 Jahre lang unsterbliche Zyklus zum vorletzten Mal sein Ende gefunden hat.

Nur noch einmal wird Brünnhilde in den Himmel blicken und die Götter anklagen:

„O ihr, der Eide ewige Hüter!
Lenkt euren Blick auf mein blühendes Leid:
erschaut eure ewige Schuld!
Meine Klage hör‘, du hehrster Gott!
Durch seine tapferste Tat,
dir so tauglich erwünscht,
weihtest du den, der sie gewirkt,
dem Fluche, dem du verfielest:
mich mußte der Reinste verraten,
dass wissend würde ein Weib!

Ruhe, ruhe, du Gott!“

Dreißig Sattelschlepper wurden benötigt, um den Zeittunnel für jeden Ring-Zyklus zum Opernhaus an der Bismarckstraße zu transportieren und in mehreren Tagen aufzubauen. Nach der allerletzten Götterdämmerung am Ostermontag wird der Tunnel ein letztes Mal abgebaut, um dann schließlich zur Entsorgung abgeholt zu werden. Nur noch einmal Götz Friedrichs ewiges Spiel der Götter – dann ist der legendäre Ringtunnel Geschichte. Er hat viel Freude bereitet und zahlreichen Menschen unvergessliche Momente beschert. Vivat Götz!

Sebastian Koik | 11. April 2017

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320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 614 MByte (MP3)
In-house recording
A production by Götz Friedrich (1985)