“Götterdämmerung” closes the Met’s Ring strongly with big questions still in twilight
So, now that it’s over, what was it all about?
Last night’s premiere of Götterdämmerung marked the conclusion of Robert Lepage’s new production of the Ring cycle for the Metropolitan Opera — at over $16 million, a vertiginously expensive affair driven by some of the most advanced stage machinery around. The flexible set made up of rotating planks combined with interactive video imagery, would, it was said, finally bring Wagner’s vision to life.
To a certain extent it accomplished that. Rarely have scene changes been so fluid: as video projections of pebbles morph into grainy wooden paneling, Lepage takes us from the shore of the Rhine to inside the Gibichung’s hall with the same dreamlike fluidity as Wagner’s score. Siegfried’s raft bobs convincingly on the river; flickering flames surround Brünnhilde’s mountaintop and two ravens swoop overhead as fleetingly as a premonition.
Perhaps this is what Wagner’s world looks like. But what does it mean? More than any other part of the Ring, Götterdämmerung requires a director to take a stand, connecting the mythical antics of the gods to the human world. With the chorus of Gibichungs looking on, judgment will have to be passed on Siegfried’s betrayal of Brünnhilde. Is ignorance an excuse? Is amnesia a valid defense against perjury? Who, ultimately, bears responsibility for Siegfried’s death?
Though the answers remained vague, there was, perhaps for the first time, a strong sense of Lepage probing the deeper layers of his characters. It helped that the cast featured committed singer-actors across the board.
Jay Hunter Morris continued his impetuous portrayal of Siegfried, allowing the comic aspects of his oblivious character to flash through moments before his downfall. Vocally, he seemed to have increased in stamina since his appearance in Siegfried last fall, saving reserves for a moving death scene, which showcased his lyrical gifts.
Deborah Voigt’s Brünnhilde also appeared brightly lit, her humiliation at the hands of Gunther painfully evident. Her duets with Morris appeared more evenly matched than than they did in Siegfried, where she seemed to overpower him. But there was also a loss of warmth to her tone, especially in the mid-range, that made for some nondescript passages.
But it was Gunther and Hagen, sung by Iain Paterson and Hans-Peter König, who offered the most sharply defined character studies. Paterson’s Gunther, sung with a sinewy bass-baritone, is a profoundly human ruler wrestling with his own mediocrity. Will he pull himself up to the level of a genuine hero or allow Hagen to drag him down to murderous depths? That he ultimately teeters toward the latter seems to be above all a function of his lack of self-belief.
And Hagen, sung resplendently by König, is so persuasive because he harbors no such insecurities. No doubt König could play a terrific villain, but his Hagen is fascinating for being quite free of cruelty. When he stabs Siegfried fatally in the back, he does so with the dispassionate manner of an executioner certain of serving the law. Even his quest for the ring seems to be less a matter of personal greed than of obedience to his father – marking the brief but powerful return of Eric Owens as Alberich.
Wendy Bryn Harmer brought a bright, gleaming soprano and a welcome dose of likability to the role of Gutrune. Waltraud Meier made a passionate entrance as Waltraute, threatening to upstage Voigt with her quicksilver soprano. The three Norns created an eerie opening with Maria Radner, making her house debut as the First Norn, standing out with a beautifully full contralto. The Rhinemaidens, sung by Erin Morley, Jennifer Johnson Cano and Tamara Mumford, sounded and looked delectable in skin-tight metallic costumes.
But the most exciting musical moments came courtesy of the Met orchestra and men’s chorus led by an impassioned Fabio Luisi. His approach to the score is driven by swift tempi and sharply contrasted colors. Scenes like the blood oath by Siegfried and Gunther were painted in stark chiaroscuro colors with strident brass chords underlining the brutality of the deceit.
Ultimately, there was the necessary climactic drama and a focus on storytelling in Götterdämmerung that had often been lacking in previous Ring installments. But even so the staging seemed to remain in the realm of metaphor with no clear idea of what exactly the metaphor signified. When all were dead and the Ring was returned to the Rhine, Valhalla’s downfall appeared inadvertently comical, with the heads popping off pseudo-Hellenistic sculptures of Wotan and consorts: a sad anticlimax at the moment when Wagner calls for the obliteration of the world order. On Lepage’s machine, meanwhile, not one plank was twisted out of shape.
Götterdämmerung continues at the Met through February 11 and again, as part of the complete Ring cycle, from April 24 to May 12. 212-362 6000; metopera.org.