Götterdämmerung

Pietari Inkinen
Opera Australia Chorus
The Melbourne Ring Orchestra
Date/Location
13 December 2013
State Theatre Arts Centre Melbourne
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cast
SiegfriedStefan Vinke
BrünnhildeSusan Bullock
GuntherBarry Ryan
GutruneSharon Prero
AlberichWarwick Fyfe
HagenDaniel Sumegi
WaltrauteDeborah Humble
WoglindeLorina Gore
WellgundeJane Ede
FloßhildeDominica Matthews
1. NornElizabeth Campell
2. NornJacqueline Dark
3. NornAnke Höppner
Gallery
The Guardian

After the first three instalments of Opera Australia’s Ring it seemed as if there were a number of different approaches vying for attention in Neil Armfield’s production. But Götterdämmerung at least puts on stage something that is more unified. It doesn’t draw together the visual or conceptual threads from the previous operas – for one thing, the idea of a eco-parable seems to have disappeared altogether – but it does present the narrative in clear dramatic images that are entirely consistent on their own terms.

That doesn’t mean the evening offers many revelations – it’s rare to have come away from any major opera production, let alone from a Ring cycle, with so little that seems new or genuinely insightful. But from the very start of Götterdämmerung there’s a clear sense of purpose about what is unfolding. The pictorial curtain that the three Norns are sewing in the Prologue drops to reveal the skeletal framework of a building, with Siegfried and Brünnhilde entwined on a mattress at its centre. The same outline then becomes the Gibichung hall, with Gunther (Barry Ryan) and Gutrune (Sharon Prero) working up a sweat on running machines, Daniel Sumegi’s Hagen in naval uniform prowling between them. Covered in canvas it’s also the wedding marquee in which the double marriage of the second act is celebrated, turns into a shooting gallery for the hunting party of the third, before being engulfed in flame as Valhalla burns in the closing moments of the opera.

Unlike much of what has come before, it’s a visual idea that works well, with only a few glosses that clutter things unnecessarily – the return of the sea of humanity first seen at the opening of Rheingold to illustrate Siegfried’s Rhine journey in embarrassingly simplistic mime seems one serious miscalculation, while caricaturing Gunther as a wimp and Gutrune as a bimbo has become too easy a cliche. But on the plus side the use of the murdered Siegfried’s body, propped upright, his face whitened with makeup, as a totemic symbol throughout Brünnhilde’s immolation does make the ending powerfully ritualistic.

In fact there are scenes in all three acts when the drama exerts a grip it rarely has earlier in the cycle. Hagen’s dream visit from his father Alberich (Warwick Fyfe, compelling once again) is one, Brünnhilde’s confrontation with Deborah Humble’s insistent, impassioned Waltraute is another. At such moments the performances convey a sense of drama that’s missing from much of Armfield’s production and from Pietari Inkinen’s conducting, which despite some very fine playing from all sections of the Melbourne Ring Orchestra still too often mistakes slowness for spaciousness and grandeur.

Once again Stefan Vinke’s Siegfried made up in sheer stamina and resolve what he lacked in subtlety, while Susan Bullock’s Brünnhilde began more convincingly than she had before, though she did seem to fade in the third act. As a whole, however, the performance had a consistency missing earlier in the cycle; that can only deepen in the two cycles to come, and some aspects of the production might even come into focus too.

Andrew Clements | 25 Nov 2013

Sydney Morning Herald

‘Ring’ restoration: embracing nature in all its beauty and terror

The humble hut where Siegfried’s sibling parents had met in Die Walkure was enlarged to become the hollow halls of his killers, the Gibichungs, in Gotterdammerung. The best characters in The Ring shun houses, gathering on rocks, making love in forests, swimming in the Rhine and embracing nature in all its beauty and terror. Director Neil Armfield and set designer Robert Cousins have reinforced this, representing indoors as a singularly oppressive, patriarchal space.

Over the three acts and five hours of music, the steel structure used here as a stately home, a wedding marquee, and an evocation of Valhalla, embodied the deadening joylessness of the social compact so well that one was not entirely sorry to see it burst into flames, as it did at the end spectacularly. At the back the crowd that had earlier laid plastic-wrapped flowers like a spontaneous street shrine around the dead Siegfried silently bore witness from the stair of Valhalla at the world’s close.

Armfield’s crowds were a mute chorus throughout this cycle, mediating between myth and the everyday with humanity and playfulness. Paralleling the beach bodies that had gathered on the Rhine at the start of the cycle, a flash-crowd now intruded on the lovers’ morning-after intimacy, to join Brunhilde in waving Siegfried on his Rhine journey.

While the earlier juxtaposition had produced a creative frisson that spurs detached reflection, here the disjunction with the portentousness of the moment seemed to me to misfire. Just before this, sombreness had been established at the start with the three vocally well-balanced Norns (Elizabeth Campbell, Jacqueline Dark and Anke Hoppner) sewing a large 19 century theatrical canvas flat, again picking up on a theme from the start of the cycle.

Gotterdammerung is where the heroic idyll of unfettered fearless love and truth achieved in the previous opera is catastrophically shattered against the brittle hypocrisies of social contracts. Susan Bullock as Brunhilde paced herself in the farewell scene, saving her most glowing and open voice for the smouldering anger of her betrayal, her deranged flashing fury in the gripping wedding scene of the second act, and the kindling warmth of renunciation at the close.

Stefan Vinke as Siegfried retained radiant vocal strength to the close with scarcely a hint of fatigue. Daniel Sumegi’s singing created a dark, deep-textured and implacably evil Hagen, cutting through impressively, despite technical acoustic issues mid-stage. Barry Ryan captured the equivocating weakness of Gunther with firm energised sound, while Sharon Prero sang with fluid flirtation as Getrune (who, to use Anna Russell’s memorable phrase, the only woman Siegfried ever met who wasn’t his aunt).

Warwick Fyfe has revealed unexpected, wonderfully effective dark vocal edges as Alberich in this cycle, distilled superbly in the crucial mysterious scene with his son Hagen, one of the pivotal father- rejection episodes in the work. Deborah Humble sang Waltraute, the spirited Valkyrie who plays hooky to tell Brunhilde how bad things are at home, with dramatic, coloured vividness.

In the final scene, Armfield set a static stage to let the music provide the movement. Conductor Pietari Inkinen led his splendid orchestra, strong in strings and rich in brass, with spacious breadth, allowing details and phrases to unfold unhurriedly and completely.

The lovers were frozen like a wedding-cake statuette at the centre of the burning world while, as humanity looked on, the three golden-voiced statuesque Rhinemaidens (Lorina Gore, Jane Ede and Dominica Matthews) dispatched Hagen with the efficiency of well-trained Bond-girls to reclaim their ring. As the performance commenced word spread of the sad death of Elke Neidhardt, distinguished director of Australia’s previous Ring cycle in Adelaide and outstanding creator of many memorable Opera Australia productions spread – a great loss to Australian opera.

Peter McCallum | 26 November 2013

classicmelbourne.com.au

The Third Day of Wagner’s music colossus concluded what has been the kind of festival he had planned: all four operas being performed in close succession by outstanding singers and a Wagner sized orchestra of excellent musicians in a production that illuminates his dramatic intentions. In addition, the controversial nature of Opera Australia’s production ensured that there would be plenty to discuss over a meal with fellow members of the audience during the extended intervals. It has been a community event.

As the Norns sewed away at the inverted backdrop of Valhalla, torn by the entrance of the giants in Das Rheingold, the audience could begin to weave together more threads of understanding of the story and the production itself. Although certain mysteries concerning both remained after the final curtain fell, a shift in perspective resulted in a realisation that the whole was a great deal larger than the sum of the parts.

Originally devised as the beginning of ‘The Ring Cycle’ the Norns fill us in on the details of the story and what is going on back in Valhalla. Elizabeth Campbell, Jacqueline Dark and Anke Höppner made a dramatically and vocally strong trio as a type of homespun sewing circle, appearing to relish a good old gossip about Wotan’s glory days and Valhalla’s imminent fall. Their reaction to the tangling and breaking of the thread/rope of Fate and Neil Armstrong’s symbolic depiction of that fall brought a chilling change of mood.

Instead of Wotan himself appearing in this opera, Waltraute also provides details of how badly things are going back at the great hall of the gods. Her attempts to persuade Brünnhilde to give the ring back to the Rhine maidens have the potential to be one of the most moving scenes in the opera. Feminists might recoil at the sight of Brünnhilde being confined to a rock with only her horse, her memories and, of course, the ring to console her.

Susan Bullock’s emotional range as a singing actress is enormous. As in the final scene of Siegfried, her interchange with Stefan Vinke’s passionate hero at the conclusion of the Prologue was multi-dimensional. What Waltraute calls madness, Brünnhilde experiences as transcendental passion and that is exactly what Bullock conveyed, in addition to showing the cost this entails. Her reaction to descriptions of her father’s loving thoughts of her was moving indeed. Deborah Humble was all urgent Valkyrie, her dramatic dark tones painting a vivid picture of Wotan’s dejection and the necessity of relinquishing what had become a symbol of Siegfried’s love.

Bullock showed that Brünnhilde’s inner Valkyrie was still very much alive in her furious reactions to the deceptions of Siegfried and the Gibichungs. The compressed fury in her body language as Gunther dragged her towards the assembled wedding guests, and the fierce physical assault on her surroundings were accompanied by a formidable display of vocal power and incisive articulation. In Götterdämmerung the role of Brünnhilde requires enormous concentration and vocal stamina; Bullock gave a remarkably sustained display of both as well as providing moments of considerable beauty.

Stefan Vinke more than met the vocal demands of his heldentenor role. In fact, he seemed to grow stronger as the evening progressed. His rounded, ringing voice and energetic youthful energy enlivened his Siegfried. By playfully resisting the charms of the enticing Rhine maidens, including Lorina Gore’s gleaming soprano, he reinforced his credentials as an essentially honourable and engaging hero. Although a lack of full awareness still dominated Siegfried’s interactions until the very end of the opera, Vinke managed to add further dimensions to his role, particularly when he was disguised as Gunther. His hesitations when on the verge of regaining his memory rang true and his death scene was absolutely heart-wrenching.

Dynamic, sometimes elaborate, sets made for some entertaining staging. Gunther and Hagen, the half brothers of the ruling Gibichung family, were presented as navy captain and commander, while their sister, Gutrune, was a Barbie figure intent on looking good. Surrounded by the trappings of wealth, Gunther and Gutrune labored away on their exercise equipment while Hagen lured them into his deceitful schemes. The wedding scene featured a huge marquee furnished with complete table-settings plus wedding cake. It was miraculous how well the large male chorus and others managed to enter and exit so smoothly as the stage revolved.

Götterdämmerung is the only one of the four operas that requires a chorus and the OA gentlemen made the most of the opportunity with some fine singing. A well-balanced ensemble was equally impressive in the full-throated rousing passages as in the softer ones. Although a little under-powered in the lower parts of the voice against a heavier orchestra, Sharon Prero and Barry Ryan gave solid performances as Gunther and Gutrune. Dripping with ‘diamonds’ and dressed in a low-cut, tightly fitting fishtail wedding gown, Prero’s glamorous appearance was perfect for the portrayal of Gutrune as a blonde, tanned trophy-bride in Act II. The four very pink bridesmaids completed a picture of tasteless excess.

Along with Alberich, sung and acted with unnerving menace by Warwick Fyfe, his son Hagen provides the element of evil. Daniel Sumegi made an ideal Hagen, his distinctive voice having just the right weight and timbre to suggest latent threat and a capacity for ruthless domination of others. The beginning of Act II, when Alberich pours his greedy hypnotic suggestions into his sleeping son’s ears, was made even more riveting by Damien Cooper’s highly effective lighting.

Avoiding the static without being unduly distracting, there were many fun elements in this production, such as a mass rowing scene during Siegfried’s Rhine Journey. Perhaps Armfield’s most telling and emotionally charged direction came at the end of the opera, when so many story and musical elements come together. It was not so much the unexpected pyrotechnics of Brünnhilde’s Immolation Scene, nor the noble manner in which she joined Siegfried after his incredibly moving ritualistic death scene that struck home; rather, it was his use of the augmented cast to highlight the centrality of humanity. As they faced the audience, they appeared to encourage us to join them in building a hopeful future where love triumphs over greed.

There have been so many productions of The Ring that it must be increasingly difficult to find new ways of presenting it. Neil Armfield’s creative team may have reworked some ideas used by other directors, but they have put their own unique stamp on this one with a freshness and ingenuity that successfully fuses modern iconography with myth.

Opera Australia’s production will resonate in the minds of those who saw it for many years to come. The staging, the acting and most of all the singing and playing have transported us into a magical world of heroes and heroines, gods and demigods, mystical creatures and merciless villains, while exploring the complexities of human nature. Pietari Inkinen has been untiring in his efforts to draw out the very best from musicians who have given exceptional performances of Wagner’s glorious music.

As the singers, including most of those who had appeared only in the earlier Ring operas, lined up on stage to take their final curtain call alongside dancers, members of the orchestra and the production team, and the band of enthusiastic volunteers, it was a time of celebration. The standing ovation that greeted every single performance of this ambitious project was further vindication of the decision to undertake such an ambitious project and affirmed that Opera Australia had well and truly come of age.

Heather Leviston | 10th December, 2013

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User Rating
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Media Type/Label
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Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 607 MByte (MP3)
Remarks
Broadcast (ABC Classic)
A production by Neil Armfield (2013)
This recording is part of a complete Ring.