Music and Libretto: Richard Wagner
Concert Staging and design: Peter Mumford
Conductor: Richard Farnes
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
What a long strange trip it’s been. Götterdämmerung has to be seen in the context of Richard Wagner’s overall Ring Cycle as well as a single opera in its own right. Musical themes and motifs from earlier parts of the Cycle constantly appear but in slightly altered form. The magnificent Ride of the Valkyries, heard in all its bombastic glory in the second part of the Cycle, here drifts ghost-like through the air as if to suggest the diminution of the warrior maidens. Besides, to ignore the earlier parts of the Cycle would diminish the remarkable achievement of Opera North and their musical director and conductor Richard Farnes in staging such a mammoth opera in a simple and accessible concert format over a four-year period.
The concluding part of the Cycle opens with Woltan fatalistically awaiting the twilight of the Gods that his own greed has brought about. He concludes that returning the stolen Rhinegold ring might remove the curse that has afflicted the immortals. Unfortunately his alienated daughter Brunnhlide (Alwyn Mellor) refuses to relinquish the ring she has been given as a love-pledge from hero Siegfried (Mati Turi). Brothers Hagen (Mats Almgren) and Gunther (Eric Greene) covet respectively the ring and Brunnhlide and their actions make the predicted conflagration move even closer.
The score for the opening Act is brooding and foreboding yet a subtle variety keeps it from being dour and holds the interest. Peter Mumford retains the elegantly simple staging from earlier installments. The cast faces the audience as if performing in a concert even when reacting to other characters. Costumes are basic but very effective with the soothsaying Norns setting the dark mood entering in funereal black obscured by veils. The effect is so successful that the first Act alone draws cheers and ovations that usually occur only at the conclusion of the opera.
Mati Turi gives Siegfried a child-like innocence and love of life; beaming and booming his enthusiasm at every opportunity but also sulking when challenged. His range as an actor becomes apparent when, as the hero falls under a spell, his voice drops deeper and his expressive face becomes brutal and immobile. Mats Almgren and Eric Greene are excellent villains; Greene has the shifty look of someone with ambition but lacking the moral and physical courage to achieve his goals honestly. Almgren almost steals the show; his slender frame and scowling looks together with his deep bass vocals make the self-hating Hagen irressible.
The pace accelerates in the second Act as the score becomes stormy. There is a sense of crashing towards a crisis driven along by horns and brass unexpectedly blasting out from the circle. For the first time in the Cycle the mighty Opera North chorus make an appearance and their stunning vocals add greatly to the drama. But the Act is dominated by the scorching soprano vocals of Alwyn Mellor agonisingly articulating Brunnhilde’s suffering at her betrayal by her lover. A woman scorned has rarely sounded better.
Götterdämmerung is a superb conclusion to the Ring Cycle; in a single cathartic opera it brings together the themes of greed, obsession with power and the possibility of redemption that have been gradually building. Rather than rest on their laurels Opera North are already planning a revival of the Cycle this time as a complete work. This won’t be staged until 2016 but no one will begrudge them taking a break after such an epic achievement.
Reviewed on 5th July 2014