Götterdämmerung, Wagner

Bayreuther Festspiele 2010

Every Day a Little Death

With Götterdämmerung, we are introduced to a bleaker future. The slow but steady banishment of the power of magic and of mystery from our modern lives reveals its effect on Tankred Dorst’s weary gods. They can no longer struggle to co-exist, their own spirituality slowly eroded by encroaching humanity. They are banished hour by hour from a world that no longer acknowledges their power, and no longer preserves their memory.

Thielemann abandons his previously relentless pace in this final chapter, (or perhaps the final novel?) in Wagner’s Ring Cycle. He conjures a murky uncertainty, evocative of clouds of energy swirling at the birth of a new world. As with the Rhinemaidens, Dorst’s Norns are organisms emerging from the earth, this time taking the form of mangrove-like roots rising from a boggy skull pile, backlit by an ever-changing galaxy of stars and meteorites. These all-seeing sages appear to pluck stars from the sky in order to see the future more clearly. Unfortunately, this is the only movement they are allowed, which makes for a scene devoid of urgency, particularly at the crucial moment where the fabric of existence tears, (“Es riss!”). The three Norns (Edith Haller, Martine Dike and Simone Schröder) seem a little hindered in delivering this normally compelling scene by their static staging.

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Photos by: Photos by: Bayreuther Festspieler GmbH/Jörg Schulze & Enrico Nawrath

The orchestral interlude which followed was perhaps the most thrilling moment of the entire cycle. Wagner switches color-poles from the prophecy of the end of time to the climax of romantic love. Thielemann encourages the orchestra to bathe and luxuriate, and as the curtains open, with unabashed outpouring, to return us to the marble mine which has become Siegfried and Brünnhilde’s love nest. Brünnhilde is also transformed, costume designer Bernd Ernst Skodzig having swathed the newly-human heroine in the garb of a more earth-bound Wiccan. In her long linen pajamas and earthmother coat, Linda Watson continues to astound, both vocally and dramatically. She communicates the myriad colors and mixed emotions of this scene so clearly that we are once again immersed in our own memories of first love, and of trust not yet betrayed. Having fearlessly and successfully powered his way through the title role of Siegfried two days earlier, Lance Ryan showed no sign of fatigue, as he clawed at the stone walls, impatient to return to adventure. There were moments in this scene when I would have loved a little more warmth in his sound. I feel it might have helped to establish a stronger sense of Siegfried’s abiding love for Brünnhilde - a love we need to have a very visceral memory of as we face the shock of what is to come.

In a decadent patio space between two art deco apartment blocks, party guests mill around in cream satin dresses and smart dinner suits of the era, whilst a gaggle of middle aged bankers paints a sullen, pubescent boy gold (who gradually evolves into a Pan-like character). The scene is well and truly set for the soulless, vulgar shenanigans of half brothers Hagen (Eric Halfvarson) and Gunther (Ralf Lukas) and their hapless sister Gutrune (Edith Haller). Of the four roles in which she appears during the course of the Ring, Haller seems at her most vocally comfortable here. Her sound, when not put under pressure to be “dramatic”, is floral and projects very well. Having reportedly been struggling with illness, Halfvarson was clearly experiencing vocal strain during this General Rehearsal, his voice all but giving out after a very impressive “Hoi-ho!“ war-cry . Dramatically though, his Hagen was a terrifying depiction of the legacy of megalomaniacal fervour, seen haunting his dreams in the wonderful duet with his father, Alberich. (“Schläfst du Hagen, mein Sohn?”)
As Gunther, Lukas avoided lapsing into foppish caricature, but was a little wishy-washy as a result. Somewhat undefined in character, he was nonetheless vocally intriguing, his palate ranging from saccharine to stentorian.

Back on the lonely rock face, Brünnhilde is delighted by a surprise visit from her Valkyrie sister, Waltraute. (Christa Mayer). There is a tone achieved by Mayer and Watson in this exchange which is crucial to the success of Dorst’s production. Far more than a simple case of two sisters having an argument, this is a moment in which a god appeals to a mortal for salvation. This requires desperation and humility from the Valkyrie Waltraute, and the sense of a genuine ethical struggle from her sister. Brünnhilde’s decision to trust in human love and abandon the gods to their fate is central to Dorst’s narrative of the slow banishment of all things spiritual, not only from the Earth, but also from the human experience. (Rivers are dammed, landscapes are mined, trees are cut down.) These two performers strike this balance admirably, allowing the kernel of doom sown by the Norns to sprout musty leaves.

In Act 2, the sprouted doom-kernel grows exponentially. (Sci-fi fans, think “Day of the Triffids”.) Innocence is lost, deity besmirched, all the while seeming to feed Watson’s vocal strength. Thielemann guides the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra through the complexities of this Act with welcome flexibility and razor-sharp reflexes at times of great contrast. Watson, Halfvarson and Lukas swear their revenge, which is carried by the orchestra on a tangible wave of destruction across the audience’s heads, as the curtain swishes shut. At moments like this, even the most resistant must find themselves “getting” Wagner.

If there is one moment which I found unsatisfying, it was Siegfried’s realisation scene. Being slowly fed a truth serum by Hagen, Siegfried is encouraged to tell the story of his life, and edges ever closer to recalling moment of falling in love with Brünnhilde. (A time which he has since been tricked into forgetting by yet another potion.) The build up is riveting, but I felt that the crucial moment of realisation was lost, partly amidst a flurry of Siegfried’s trademark red curls, partly in a lack of necessary space from Thielemann, and perhaps in a momentary lack of focus from Ryan. That being said, I have never heard a more vocally accurate and effortless telling of this long, sad tale, and my respect for Ryan’s Siegfried is unwavering.

As Brünnhilde exits upstage between the burning apartment buildings, from which screaming party guests flee, we witness the disappearance of magic and wonder from our Earthly realm. The now-familiar psychic boy appears again, and questions whether he is really seeing what he thinks he sees. The smoke clears. A young couple on a date stroll through the scene, experiencing their own magic, but somehow in this exchange, humanity has lost intensity and is left with mere pleasantness.


Bottom line: A vertiginous thrill, a cynicism-free zone, a musical goldmine.


Mwyn Bengough


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Production Credits

Conductor - Christian Thielemann
Director - Tankred Dorst
Set Design - Frank Philipp Schlößmann
Costumes - Bernd Ernst Skodzig
Lighting Designer - Ulrich Niepel


Brünnhilde - Linda Watson
Siegfried - Lance Ryan
Hagen - Eric Halfvarson
Gunther - Ralf Lukas
Gutrune - Edith Haller
Waltraute - Christa Mayer
Alberich - Andrew Shore
1. Norn - Simone Schröder
2. Norn - Martine Dike
3. Norn - Edith Haller
Woglinde - Christiane Kohl
Wellgunde - Ulrike Helzel
Floßhilde - Simone Schröder

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THIS PRODUCTION:http://www.bayreuther-festspiele.de