Given the effective staging of the other three operas in cycle, Götterdämmerung afforded the company to meet or exceed the challenges of presenting this work with the same creativity, and in this regard it is a success. The innovative thought that informed the presentation of the other operas is present here from the start, with the Norns in the prelude suspended on pulleys labeled past, present, and future, and surrounded by their rope like spiders. At the same time, the projections behind the horns illustrate some parts of their narration. The simple use of branches to depict the growth and decline of the ash tree is a sensible image that enhances the scene and never interferes with the fine ensemble of the Norns Daniela Denschlag, Pilar Vásquez, and Eugenia Bethencourt. The scene shifts to the place where Siegfried encountered Brünnhilde at the end of the previous opera, with the scenic design nicely reprising that work. Lance Ryan and Jennifer Wilson play the same roles, with both performers convincing both vocally and dramatically. Nicely the familiar orchestra interlude “Siegfried’s Rheinfahrt” contains imagery that recalls the projections that accompanied the Wanderer at the opening of the third act of Siegfried, and this touch is helpful in using the visual motifs of this production in a manner similar to the musical Leitmotifs Wagner integrated into the structure of this multi-part work.
The main action of the opera is set in modern dress, albeit stylized with references to financial matters that reinforce from the start the calculating personalities of the Gibichungs. Matti Salminenis impressive as Hagen, and interacts well with Ralf Lukas as Gunther. No illusions make Gunther any rival to Siegfried in this production, and that self-awareness sets up the dénouement in which Siegfried is sacrificed through their scheming. As Gutrune (with her name emblazoned on her costume like a modern hotelier) Elisabete Matos plays her role fittingly. Her primping, before Siegfried’s arrival is an added touch. While there are no castles on this version of the Rhine, the staging offers a contrast with nature-borne Siegfried in the foreign territory of the Gibichung’s world. Salminen’s stentorian “Heil! Siegfried, teurer Held” carries a duplicity, with Hagen facing the hero only after he sounds the greeting. Yet when the Gibichungs dress Siegfried in a business suit to fit their world, it is as if Superman were changed to Clark Kent, with dark-rimmed glasses and shorn of long hair, like a Delilah-entranced Samson. The overly emotive Siegfried shows the strength of the potion, and if Ryan is overly demonstrative, it certainly makes the point of the libretto.
The scene between Brünnhilde and Waltraute is musically and dramatically intense, with the special effects punctuating the interaction between Jennifer Wilson and Catherine Wyn-Rogers. The headgear for Brünnhilde seems an affectation until the moment in the scene in which Waltraute demands her sister’s attention, and then the blinders on Brünnhilde’s head become apparent. Wyn-Rogers was effective earlier in the cycle as Erda and even more persuasive as Waltraute. Her narration is expressive without overstating the powerful emotions her character feels about the fate about to be enacted. Wyn-Rogers conveys the sense of Wotan’s presence, even though the latter character is absent from this drama, and her connection with Brünnhilde is integral to the conclusion of this important scene.
The dilemma at the crux of the tragedy resonates well as the image of a Rhinemaiden projected behind Waltraute, pointing to the existence Brünnhilde previously had, just as Waltraute asks Brünnhilde for the ring, which the latter insists on keeping for love, a love about to be foresworn. The physical conflict between the sisters adds to the impact of this impressive performance. At the same time, the Wilson’s intensive vocality carries into the scene with Gunther, reinforced well by the visual imagery of her magic fire along with actual fire. Not just an accompaniment, this staging reinforces the surprise of Brünnhilde who is aware that the man who crosses that superhuman barrier will win her. Ralf Lukas brings the scene to its conclusion, with the image of the emotionally affected Brünnhilde etched well into the conclusion of the act.
Along with such poignant moments, some of the other, less emotionally demanding passages in the opera are depicted memorably. The opening of the third act aptly places the Rheinmaidens in the water, not only in the contains from which they sing, but also through the immense projections of bubbles and currents, accentuated by supernumeraries who create foreground of rushes that move in the scene. While some productions lack this grand conception of the scene, this one fits the production as envisioned here by La Fura dels Baus. Siegfried’s entrance puts him nicely into the scene, unlike some stagings in which the forest scenery is divorced from the placement of the Rhinemaidens nearby. In this passage, too, the orchestra conveys appropriate warmth and depth, which builds with the vocal trio of Rhinemaidens from the upper portion of the stage and allows for an effective interaction with Lance Ryan as Siegfried. The visual presence of the Ring, rather than a strictly verbal and aural reference, reinforces the libretto, as the drama moves toward Siegfried’s murder at the hand of Hagen. Ryan’s final passages in which he recounts his meeting Brünnhilde is moving, especially in the context stark depiction of the spear striking him. The camera angles from the stage reinforce the sound image of Siegfried’s death, so that his dying cry for Brünnhilde fits into the larger composition of the scene. The cortege bearing the body of Siegfried moves through the audience, like an off-stage instrumental passage in an orchestral work, thus enlarging the space in which to imagine the final scene.
As the work moves toward its conclusion, the interaction between Hagen, Gunther, and Gutrune works well, calling to mind the scene in which the three first appeared. While Hagen’s use of a pistol to kill Gunther is a bit out of place, it works sonically. Yet from her entrance immediately afterward, Jennifer Wilson commands the concluding portion of the opera. Her grief is visually apparent, but surpassed by her singing, which fits into a thoughtful conception of the well-known “immolation scene.” Here the staging assists her well, with a brilliant visualization of the scene, which emerges well in the film of the production. While the cross-cuts in the final scene might be sometimes abrupt, the overall effect is strong, with the reprise involving the Rhinemaidens and the acrobats who formed a human image of Valhalla at the end of Das Rheingold. The production works well in creating an effective performance of the culminating opera in Wagner’s Ring cycle. At the core of the production is Mehta’s conception of the work, which is evident in the excellent performance. His comments in the bonus documentary about the making of this video offer some good insights into his thoughts about the work. His thoughts, alongside those of his collaborators in this production, give some background about the choices involved in presenting this remarkable staging.
As with the other discs, the sound is rich and clear, as is customary with Blu-Ray technology. The visual images are similarly crisp, an important facet of this recording. The enunciation of the text is solid, and it can be amplified through the use of German subtitles, and those interested can use French, English, or Spanish. The complete libretto of this or any of the other operas in the cycle is neither part of the booklet nor included on disc, but the text is readily available online or through a variety of publications. That aside, the effort is outstanding, from start to finish, with the Valencia Ring commendable on many levels for its vision of this fantastic set of operas which culminates in this production of Götterdämmerung.
James L. Zychowicz