Theater Review: Götterdämmerung is Brünnhilde’s Triumph
At last, after over a dozen hours of Seattle Opera’s complete festival mounting of Richard Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen” I finally see what I’ve been waiting for.:
A live horse, sharing the stage with the singers.
The beast, of course, is Grane, Brünnhilde’s faithful steed who traditionally makes an appearance. Yet that may be the smallest piece of ostentation in “Götterdämmerung,” arguably the most grandiose and epic of the four operas that compose the Ring cycle. Wagner’s climax is one of utter destruction, from the treacherous death of the hero Siegfried to the collapse of Valhalla, and even the end of the gods themselves.
All the virtues of director Stephen Wadsworth’s production in the earlier three nights come together in the last to create this dynamic and powerful staging.
Here the visuals alternate between the scenic celebration of nature that dominated the earlier episodes with the highly crafted castle interiors. The Rhinemaidens cavort creatively and convincingly in the rocky mountain pool as they lament the loss of their gold. The Gibichung palace, spare of line yet rich in detailed carving, swells with the mass of choral courtiers. We are shifting from the natural world of the gods to the designed world of men.
Stig Andersen, his voice more fully recovered from a recent illness, affirms his ability in the role of Siegfried, carrying through on the puckish and petulant character he had established. The boy of such foolish innocence is an easy dupe for the schemes and bewitchment of King Gunther (Gordon Hawkins) and his husband-hunting sister Gutrune (Marie Plette).
Daniel Sumegi brings a rich and stunning bass to the role of Hagen, their half-brother and son of the dwarf Alberich (Richard Paul Fink), the ring’s covetous maker. It is Hagen’s potion that makes Siegried forget his love for Brünnhilde, and betray her by aiding his new royal friends. Sumegi’s stately frame serves as a vessel of malice that moves the story forward, loading the weight of guilt that Hawkins’ Gunther crushingly bears.
Yet it is Janice Baird, as the aggrieved and abandoned Brünnhilde, that brings a gale force to her role. Her sharp soprano takes hold of every scene, her wrath a final pronouncement of everyone’s doom, including her own. She contributes strongly, but not overwhelmingly, to the thundering trio with Sumegi and Hawkins as they plot Siegfried’s revenge death.
Baird commands the final denouement, driven by the final return of the ring to the Rhine, which cascades into an almost cinematic montage of the world falling both into place as the heavens collapse. The sequence moves swiftly and elegantly, figures fading in and out behind a scrim, and the price of a repeat ticket would be worth it just to see those final ten minutes once more.
Wagner always demands the impossible in this, his pinnacle opera, be it livestock, stage machinery or the set of tuned anvils he asks his orchestra to include. He asks the nearly impossible of his singers too, requiring stamina, force and range.
Seattle Opera has made the impossible not only possible, but manifest in the most tangible way.
SeattleOpera’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen” runs for three cycles through Aug. 30 at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 301 Mercer St. Tickets: Limited availability for Cycle 3, Aug. 25-30; (206) 389-7676 or seattleopera.org.