Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Getting Darker of the Gods

Which, of course, is the literal translation of Goetterdaemerrung, fourth and final opera in Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung, and we thoroughly enjoyed seeing it Saturday in the movie house, with terrific HD sound, closeups, and fine singing and the fantastic music. I last saw this opera in concert version at Washington National Opera a couple of years ago, after that company found itself overwhelmed and unable to finance a full production that was originally planned. 

It's a shame that Goetterdaemerrung is so long and comes last, because I've always thought that it contains the most fantastic music of all the four Ring operas, including Die Walkure.  Some years ago, Georg Solti led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a concert performance of Act III at Carnegie Hall which emphasized the greatness of this opera, and Act III, which begins with that wonderful sound of the horns, in particular.

Orchestras often perform the segment of that act that is Siegfried's Rhine Journey separately. I'm not sure ir is really as mind-blowing as the final Immolation Scene, however. The cast was up to all challenges: Jay Hunter Morris is more than an acceptable Siegfried, Deborah Voigt has come into her own as Brunnhilde, and Hans-Peter Konig turns in a fine performance as the uber-evil Hagen.  The clueless pair--Gunther and Gutrune--were well-acted and sung by Iain Paterson and Wendy Bryn Harmer, who is certainly an attractive enough Gutrune to make Siegfried forget everything without the potion. 

I do not mean to forget perhaps the finest performance of all--the fabulous eight minutes at the start of the second act when the ghost of Alberich returns to reinforce his son Hagen's villainous purpose in the person of Eric Owens, who to me will now be the all-time Alberich, both in his acting and especially in his fantastic bass-baritone voice. Speaking of great voices, despite the weakness that is the major trait Gunther displays in the opera, one of the glories of the Solti Ring recording was Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the greatest of all lieder singers, performing the role.

Hard as it is to believe, in view of the ridiculous plot and all our negative associations with the philosophy Wagner espoused, the opera does capture your concern. I don't know that I will ever be convinced of the "holy fool" characters' worth--Siegfried and Parsifal (Gunther is just a run-of-the-mill idiot). In the end, it was fun for once to see that what was always regarded as Wagner's most unperformable stage direction--the Rhine overflowing its banks--was well within the capability of the Met's production to accomplish, but the fall of Valhalla that is supposed to accompany it--often not clearly distinguished from the collapse of the Hall of the Gibichungs--seemed a bit less than world-destroying.

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