Antonio Pappano
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
2 November 2018
Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedStefan Vinke
BrünnhildeNina Stemme
GuntherMarkus Butter
GutruneEmily Magee
AlberichJohannes Martin Kränzle
HagenStephen Milling
WaltrauteKaren Cargill
WoglindeLauren Fagan
WellgundeChristina Bock
FloßhildeAngela Simkin
1. NornClaudia Huckle
2. NornIrmgard Vilsmaier
3. NornLise Davidsen

Milling’s powerful Hagen drives a dramatic Royal Opera Götterdämmerung

When a big Wagnerian orchestra is in full cry, it makes a huge wall of sound. When a bass voice is able to smash through that wall – not soar above it, as a soprano does, but drive a battering ram through the middle – the thrill forces you into the back of your seat, pulse racing. That’s what Stephen Milling achieved in Hagen’s summoning of the Gibichung clan, with the Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House on blistering form to create the accompanying mayhem – and not without entertainment, since the normally humourless Hagen is actually winding them up by issuing an apparently bellicose summons which is really a wedding invitation.

Earlier, it was Milling who provided the point of inflection at which the drama of this Götterdämmerung began to bite: his villain’s gloat “Hier sitz’ ich zur Wacht” was delivered with icy resolve, the certainty of the words “you shall all serve me, the Nibelung’s son” driving fear into our hearts. Up to that point, the tension had been strangely muted compared to the fireworks of the preceding Walküre and Siegfried: the three Norns were melodious but resigned rather than redolent of angst, with the orchestra less secure in painting colour around their voices. Brünnhilde has clearly taught Siegfried some manners during their time on the rock, since the Stefan Vinke who sets off down the Rhine has gained a degree of gravitas and become almost cultured – I think I liked him better as a boisterous teenager. Markus Butter’s Gunther was urbane, Emily Magee’s Gutrune pleasantly charming: all enjoyable singing to listen to but little hint of the dark times to come.

The Ring is so long and episodic that no matter how many times you’ve seen it, there’s always the chance that some hitherto unnoticed scene will surprise you. The scene which follows Hagen’s declaration of intent, Waltraute’s arrival on Brünnhilde’s rock, has usually seemed like an incidental aside, but here, Karen Cargill and Nina Stemme turned it into a crisis point of the whole drama. It’s the point at which Brünnhilde is given the last opportunity to set everything to rights by returning the ring to the Rhinemaidens, but mulishly refuses: she is as susceptible to the ring’s powers as anyone else except the ignorant Siegfried, and the love gift is a fatal one. Cargill has the voice not to be overpowered by Stemme and the contrast between their registers made this one of those moments of high Wagnerian drama: you can’t believe that Brünnhilde will refuse Waltraute until it actually happens.

From then on, the drama tightened steadily, with a telling scene between Vinke’s Siegfried and the Rhinemaidens (hats off to Rachael Lloyd who was called up at the very last minute and slotted in seamlessly), a superbly sung confrontation and murder scene between Siegfried and Milling’s Hagen, a powerful if not always perfectly co-ordinated funeral march, and Stemme peerless in Brünnhilde’s immolation.

Keith Warner’s staging continues to be as baffling as it is watchable. The cubes are elegant, but what do they purport? Why is one pane of glass in the cube broken? What is the significance of the pseudo-scientific wall of equations? What exactly is the not-quite-sexual relationship between Hagen and Gutrune? And who is the child in the ring at the very end, as Siegfried’s pyre (and presumably Valhalla) are consumed in flames?

You can come to a Ring cycle looking for the philosophy of Feuerbach or Schopenhauer, the politics of race or revolution, to delve into Wagner’s choice of sources of Norse mythology or, if the director is like Warner here or Frank Castorf in Bayreuth, to apply your wits to decoding a veritable forest of symbols. In the end, I have found myself happiest doing none of these things, but to allow myself to be swept away on a magic carpet spun from Wagner’s orchestral and vocal textures and woven by Antonio Pappano and this magnificent cast, travelling over a landscape where every rock, river and forest has a story to tell and every one of the dozen main characters has their individual, personal tragedy to make us sympathise. The Royal Opera puts on Ring cycles reluctantly (CEO Alex Beard has described it publicly as “something we put ourselves through”), but for me, six years feels far too long to wait for the next one.

David Karlin | 02 Oktober 2018

The Guardian

Warner joins the dots as voices and orchestra weave a formidable spell

The final part of Keith Warner’s Ring cycle saw the elements coalesce to create a compelling climax, with Antonio Pappano’s orchestra on glorious form

At the centre of Götterdämmerung, the apocalyptic final instalment of Wagner’s Ring, there is a grand tableau: part recognition scene, part ceremonial set-piece, part showdown. As the tectonic plates of the plot crunch against each other, as the vast score solidifies into ever-more compacted strata of musical gestures repeated and transformed, beleaguered lovers air incompatible truths. What happens here sets in motion the machinery of the cycle’s catastrophic denouement.

In the Royal Opera House’s third revival of Keith Warner’s production the stage is packed – not, at last, with symbolic apparatus, but with the cycle’s only chorus: the men sinister in black leather, shades and gloves, their singing almost brutishly macho; the women still more disturbing as white-clad handmaidens, gestures compelling, largely silent. Captive in their midst, Nina Stemme’s Brünnhilde confronted Stefan Vinke’s Siegfried with a desperate power – raw, almost spoken at times – as Vinke’s hard-edged bluster sliced to the heart.

Watching them and slumped, faintly bored, in his wipe-clean Louis XIV armchair (no, I wasn’t sure why either) Markus Butter’s Gunther was slight to the point of being underpowered: certainly no match for an ex-Valkyrie. Stephen Milling’s Hagen, by contrast, was an awesome, overbearing presence both physically and vocally. Sensitive to minute changes in onstage atmosphere, the orchestra under Antonio Pappano was back on form, the brass a glorious alloy, woodwind solos liquid, the strings seamless from gritty to lush.

The scene was without doubt one of the triumphs of Warner’s Ring, its choreography tight, its symbolism (chairs notwithstanding) newly clear. In fact clarity was the watchword in this opera powered by plot recaps. Thus, the paraphernalia of Siegfried’s adventures in the previous instalment are laid out for him like a walk-through in a crime drama as he is slowly brought back to his senses. And the numerous red lines running through the cycle’s earlier operas turn out to be threads woven by the all-knowing Norns, magnificently sung here by Claudia Huckle, Irmgard Vilsmaier and Lise Davidsen.

There’s ultimately something rather Norn-like about Warner himself, obsessively joining dots and plotting lines across these 17-ish hours of mythological high drama. At times, the threads snap, or are too hard to detect in the first place, or are so densely tangled as to resist interpretation. But at his best Warner trusts in the communicative power of a fleeting physical gesture, and slows the torrent of significant objects to move human emotions back into the spotlight. Above all, just occasionally, he steps back – leaving the voices and orchestra to weave their own formidable spell.

Flora Willson | 2 Oct 2018

Financial Times

Full-blooded music and a hurricane of a Brünnhilde

Antonio Pappano’s conducting and Nina Stemme’s singing help create a robust, punchy Wagner

In any opera company, Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen remains the jealously guarded province of the music director. The current Royal Opera production, which is being seen for the last time, started life in 2004 soon after Antonio Pappano’s arrival and has stretched nearly 15 years into his tenure.

In that time Pappano has never missed a cycle. His full-blooded conducting has kept the dramatic energy coursing through the operas without fail, but this time round the music has felt even more robust and punchy, especially in the climactic high drama of Götterdämmerung.

Inevitably, singers have come and gone over the lifetime of the production. It was originally built around Bryn Terfel’s Wotan, and losing him for the final cycles was a blow, but compensation has arrived with a hurricane of a Brünnhilde in Nina Stemme. Immensely powerful, sturdy, almost mezzo-like in the deep foundations of her voice, Stemme is vocally as solid as a rock. It has taken 35 years for a singer to come along to rival the titanic fury of Gwyneth Jones’s Brünnhilde in Götterdämmerung, but it has been worth the wait.

Among the rest of the cast, Stephen Milling is outstanding as Hagen, singing with huge power, but also scrupulous in his care for the text and phrasing. Stefan Vinke cuts rather a boorish figure as Siegfried, but has ringing top notes to burn and seems tireless. Emily Magee and a rather husky-voiced Markus Butter were adequate as Gutrune and Gunther. Karen Cargill gave Waltraute’s narration a deep-toned dignity and Johannes Martin Kränzle repeated his not-very-evil Alberich. The three Norns were led by the authoritative Lise Davidsen, the three Rhinemaidens by the shining Lauren Fagan.

Despite its fondness for a stage cluttered with symbolism, Keith Warner’s production has kept up a strong human narrative that has suited Pappano’s red-blooded musical direction. Whatever the criticisms the production has drawn, a Royal Opera audience is always more likely to respond to a theatrical style rooted in strong images and characters than the more experimental central European alternatives. The next Royal Opera Ring is apparently already in the planning stage. It will be interesting to see if it can last as long.

Richard Fairman | OCTOBER 2, 2018


The most successful productions of Wagner’s ‘Ring’ cycle manage to present both the towering grandeur of the subjects of Gods, Men and the Universe, and the recognizable depiction of a family at war with itself. In the same way as the greatest productions of King Lear, in Keith Warner’s version of the ‘Ring’ we witness at once a domestic tragedy and a profound universal upheaval. This Götterdämmerung precisely unravels both the arrogance of the gods and the vulnerability of humans, and if at times you feel that you are witnessing a heightened version of ‘Succession,’ that is all to the good.

The cast is superb, all responding with absolute sincerity to the director’s vision of dramatic strength and convincing interaction. It’s rare to be so gripped by the Norns as this audience clearly was – and it was not just Lise Davidsen’s startling, Rita Hunter-like attack which impressed, but Irmgard Vilsmaier’s dramatic commitment and Claudia Huckle’s warm, beautiful tone.

Stefan Vinke may not have the poetry of some Siegfrieds, but when it comes to sheer stamina, vocal prowess and projection, he certainly delivers. His last utterances were unexpectedly moving. Nina Stemme possesses similar power and ability to retain vocal strength to the end, and she is engrossing in every line, with the most glorious delivery of her final music and exceptional clarity in her exchanges with Siegfried and Waltraute. Karen Cargill’s assumption of that role was exemplary, as was Emily Magee’s anxious, vulnerable Gutrune. Markus Butter’s Gunther was got up like Niles Crane on an especially flamboyant party night, and his characterization fitted in with this.

Stephen Milling’s Hagen was able to hold the stage without uttering a word, so powerful was his presence, and his singing was magisterial. Johannes Martin Kränzle’s Alberich was as impressive as ever, despite an awkward bit of staging, and the three Rhinemaidens, Lauren Fagan, Rachel Lloyd and Angela Simon sang exquisitely.

The ROH chorus, mostly creepily dressed as hoodlums (men) or handmaidens (women) sang lustily, and the orchestra was on fine form. Antonio Pappano directed a performance strong on poetry and drama, the grand climaxes as thrilling as anyone could wish, and the more tender moments finely shaped.

The production is exceptionally strong on what is generally called personenregie, giving the impression that every interaction has been studied in detail, and with no superfluous gestures or distractions – in other words, nothing to frighten the horses, but that does not mean lacking in ideas. Siegfried’s journey, the ‘family’ set-up at the Gibichungs’ and the Rhine-side ‘beach’ where the Maidens sport, were all brilliantly conceived, and the final conflagration was stunning.

Melanie Eskenazi | 3 Oct 2018

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 48.0 kHz, 600 MByte (MP3)
Broadcast (BBC 3; transmission date: 29 December 2018)
A production by Keith Warner (2006)
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.