Monday 8 May 2006

Review of Götterdämmerung - Part 1

A new production of Götterdämmerung is always eagerly awaited, particularly when it comes as the completion of a Ring Cycle. You always hope that it will help make sense of the iconography of the previous parts of the cycle. With a Ring as stuffed full of symbols as that of Keith Warner and Stefanos Lazaridis at Covent Garden, this was especially true. As it turned out, Saturday’s performance (the last in the current run), did not quite provide the magnificent summation that we might have hoped for, but for most of the evening Warner displayed admirably clarity in his narrative.

The prologue opened with the Norns (Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Yvonne Howard and Marina Poplavskaya) in front of a drop curtain covered with swirling equations. This curtain was first seen at the opening of Siegfried. The Norns were weaving the red-rope that has been a linking theme throughout the cycle. All 3 were excellent.

As before in the cycle, the Valkyrie rock was simply an acting space. Neither Lisa Gasteen nor John Treleaven seemed entirely on form, their duet lacked the vocal freedom that is desirable.

Act 1 took place in a glossy atrium with a huge glass wall with Gunter (Peter Coleman-Wright) and Gutrune (Emily Magee) on along white sofa, servants brought in a drinks trolly. Magee and Coleman-Wright were excellent as the Gibichungs and Warner introduced an element of incest that is familiar from other Rings, but this time John Tomlinson’s Hagen also participated (perhaps we could have a Ring where the incest is implied between Hagen and Gunter for a change).

Tomlinson’s Hagen was puzzling. He is a great theatrical performer and Hagen has been one of his best roles, notably in Götz Friedrich’s 2nd Ring at Covent Garden. There, there were elements of that controlled, controlling, threatening Hagen but overlaid with an odd bumptiousness. In fact there were moments when Tomlinson’s Hagen verged on the downright comic.

When Hagen drugs Siegfried’s drink, the wall of the atrium changed shape and suddenly we are in the cuboid tarnhelm, a neat effect. Throughout the cycle there have been imaginative visual references of all sizes to the cube-lattice structure which represents the tarnhelm.

For the scene between Br&uum;nnhilde and Waltraute, the set remained the same and Hagen was on stage, as if this was his vision. And when Siegfried as Gunter captures Brunnhilde, both Siegfried and Gunter were on stage, with Siegfried wearning the tarnhelm – another rather neat solution to a perennial problem. Mihoko Fujimura's Waltraute was one of the highlights of the production. Her tone never forced, she sang with a wonderful suppleness of line.

So far so good: the first act was presented with remarkable clarity and the Royal Opera House have assembled a strong group of singers. I will come to Act II tomorrow.

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