Monday, April 26, 2010

The Ring rung roundly down

Well, its over. My Ring. I don’t ever expect to see it again in my lifetime. These performances will remain my reference. And it has been one heck of an experience.

So last night it was Götterdammerung, the final episode and, actually the best episode of the saga. It’s the best because it has a good amount of genuine action and drama and a bit less of those ‘the story so far’ sections which make for the boring longueurs of parts two and three, and that drama gives the opportunity for some splendid dramatic music – even a choral section, and ensemble work – instead of all that wretched and endless monologuery. Only once does this show tumble into dreariness: at the beginning of the third act when Siegfried (who must have complained he didn’t have enough to do) whacks endlessly on about this and about that, until you are simply longing for Hagen to pull out his spear and stick it in to the talkative tenor. Actually, when he does, he does it so inefficiently that the corpse sits up and sings some more before finally getting out of the opera. King Ludwig should have commanded at least a twenty-minute cut in the Siegfriedian waffles.
It is all the sadder that this bleeding chunk of tenorism arrives when it does, for it completely snuffs out the great dramatic tension built up in act two – the wedding scenes and Brünnnhilde’s discovery of her betrayal – which is quite simply the highlight of the entire Ring of the Nibelungs.
Last night, the famous act two went simply splendidly. It helped, of course, that it starts off with a scene between Hagen and Alberich which, even if it was fairly ‘the story so far’-ish, really got things rolling. The six-mile Alberich was back, as dazzling and all-conquering as ever, and Hagen was the experienced Matti Salminen: tall, wonderfully still and villainous, a copybook classy nasty in a black trench-coat which seemed to have come from a better tailor than Wotan’s. His rich, extensive bass voice joined with the tranchant baritone of his father, in a memorable fashion.
Hagen’s next highlight was the famous scene of the gathering of the Gibichungs. For the first time in the cycle, we had a chorus. It is an object lesson. How amazingly effective a chorus can be when it is used sparingly!
The ‘royal family’ of the Gibichungs are represented by Gunther (Markus Brück) and his sister Gutrune (Heidi Melton), and here again we had two first class performances. On my previous viewings of this opera, these characters were played dead straight, but apparently in Germany they are given a comic aspect. Gunther was dolled up like a little fat Chinese nodding man, and Gutrune looked like Miss Piggy in a series of vast, shining, fluo gowns. But if they looked odd, they sang superbly. Brúck, who had disappointed me as Donner, was back in the kind of form that led me to drown him in praises after last year’s Tannhäuser, and Miss Melton, with little to do, gave no quarter to Brünnhilde when her soprano turn came.
Brünnhilde was Evelyn Herlitzius, the Brünnhilde of Walküre who had left me, there, with mixed feelings. Once again, she started badly, she and her Siegfried (Alfons Eberz) singing their opening scene with hectic, gusty tones, and a fair amount of flat intonation. It was not enjoyable. But, both of them warmed up as the opera went on, and come Brünnhilde’s vast dramatic part in Act Two, Ms Herlitzius took the stage. Acting with a poignancy and power that one would never have thought possible after her schoolgirlish portrayal in Walküre, and singing with magnificent clarity and almost always accuracy, she drove the piece to its climax quite magnificently. It was quite something.
And then we went, boomph, down to the endless Siegfried half an hour. You probably aren’t allowed, in lofty places, to criticise Wagner as a dramatist but ... well, I already have.
Once Siegfried (hurrah!) and Gunther (awww) were corpses, things got better, and we had a reasonably picturesque staging of the final stages of the saga, with Herlitzius powering out the Immolation scene alongside a suggestion of a horse (no dragon, half a horse.. what does this production have against animals?) before, as Anna Russell used to say, ‘they all burned up’ in a wallow of gauze and projections.
It was a good night. The second act could be called a great night. Alas, its too late for rewrites…

And so ended my Ring.

While it was happening, of course, real life continued outside the opera house in a marginally less dramatic way. Livia ran a fine race for fourth on her debut down in Australia, and here in Berlin, I fell in love. But that’s another story and it can wait a bit.

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