Götterdämmerung, Staatsoper Berlin, Schiller Theater, April 2013

When the Rheinmaidens playfully tease Siegfried at the start of Act II, their musical movements were far better than the unmusicality of the irritatingly intrusive dancers, who reappeared in this final part of The Ring. Their manipulation of silk sheets was fine, but this is the first time I have seen opera ladies move more gracefully than dancers, which suggests Belgian director Guy Cassiers should abandon them and let Wagner’s music speak for itself.

Act 1, all images ©MonikaRittershaus

Act 1, all images ©MonikaRittershaus

Under Barenboim’s direction it did so in spades, with a grippingly emotional Siegfried funeral march complemented by a moving red glow in the lighting. But after this the production failed to carry conviction. Siegfried’s arm merely flopped to one side rather than rise in warning to Hagen, who stayed where he was before quietly leaving the stage. He suddenly returned from stage-right to shout Zurück vom Ring, before barging his way through the onlookers to get to the Rhein, but why wasn’t he anxiously waiting and following Siegfried’s body with his eyes? It didn’t make sense.

Nor did some of the video imagery of faces with tongues hanging out, but there was fine singing in abundance. Waltraud Meier, an exceptional Sieglinde in Walküre, returned to sing Second Norn with a lovely evenness of tone, and reappeared strongly as Waltraute in a well wrought conflict with Brünnhilde. Iréne Theorin was commanding in that role, singing with effortless intensity. Siegfried was boldly sung by Andreas Schager, slim, youthful and convincing, as was Mikhail Petrenko as Hagen, and Johannes Martin Kränzle reprised his deeply powerful Alberich. Anna Samuil returned from her Freia in Rheingold to sing Gutrune, and Gerd Grochowski was an immensely effective Gunther, his firm voice complementing a melancholy stage presence that reminded me of a younger Jeremy Irons. His performance was an unexpected pleasure.

Brünnhilde, Hagen, Gunther

Brünnhilde, Hagen, Gunther

Overall, this production has its strong points, particularly in the lighting and some of the better video imagery, but its weakest points lie in the use of dancers. Rheingold was particularly bad in this respect, and Walküre was easily the best part, and the only one in which dancers were entirely absent. An interview in the Walküre programme showed Belgian director Guy Cassiers to have some rather naïve political ideas that included blaming Europeans for much of the poverty in the world. Perhaps his attitudes stem from Belgium’s poor colonial record, but noting that Wotan is cleverer than many of today’s politicians is a bit jejeune.

That Monsieur Cassiers is inspired by concepts relating to the interplay between good and evil, and success and failure, is no bad thing, but the unifying force that makes this Ring work so brilliantly is surely the musical direction by Daniel Barenboim. That plus a clever choice of singers who fitted their roles made this a hugely musical pleasure.

One Response to “Götterdämmerung, Staatsoper Berlin, Schiller Theater, April 2013”

  1. DAVID MAY says:

    Cassier’s Ring has been roundly condemned for the dancing. This is a shame because I found it full of interesting and confronting ideas as well as the most beautiful visual imagery I have seen on a theatre stage. The musical quality of the performances was outstanding and there was a tangible mood that we were experiencing something very special.

    I would even go so far as to say that the dancers provide some enlightening dramatic perspective as well. The big problem was their intrusion in the orchestral interludes. These should go (though the audible “boo’ during the music in Rheingold was unwarranted and intrusive in itself). However the concept of the living tarnhelm was quite inspirational, often at times reminding me of an “Alien” like SF monster. I also felt that the dragon episode in Siegfried was tasteful and effective as opposed to the pantomime puppet in the Met’s Lepage Ring.

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