Saturday, March 21, 2015

Die Götterdämmerung on DVD from Frankfurt

Richard Wagner, Siegfried

Image result for gotterdammerung frankfurt wagner
Siegfried         Lance Ryan
Gunther          Johannes Martin Kränzle

Alberich          Jochen Schmeckenbecher
Hagen            Gregory Frank
Brünnhilde      Susan Bullock
Gutrune          Anja Fidelia Ulrich
Waltraute       Claudia Mahnke
1. Norn           Meredith Arwady
2. Norn           Claudia Mahnke
3. Norn           Angel Blue
Woglinde        Britta Stallmeister
Wellgunde     Jenny Carlstedt
Flosshilde       Katharina Magiera

Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester
Conducted by Sebastian Weigle

Directed by Vera Nemirova

Recorded live June/July 2012 at Frankfurt Opera

DVD OEHMS Classics OC99  (4 hours and 40 minutes)

This is the final drama in the 2012 Frankfurt Ring cycle conducted by Sebastian Weigle and directed by Vera Nemirova – a DVD release following on from earlier (2010) CD issue of the same production with a very similar cast. The cycle got off to a very strong start with Das Rheingold (reviewed here). Die Walküre and Siegfried were both significantly more uneven, but I recommended both of them (reviews here and here). In many respects Die Göttermämmerung is the weakest of the four dramas. Fortunately it is redeemed by (and worth buying for) strong conducting throughout and some very fine singing in Act III scenes 2 and 3.

One of the strengths of the first three operas was the simplicity of Vera Nemirova’s staging, entirely based on a set of concentric rings each of which can be moved independently in three dimensions. This staging, supported by appropriate lighting and with very few additional props, cast an austere perspective reminiscent of the Wieland Wagner Neue Bayreuth productions of the post-War period. Nemirova at times insisted on going off-piste, adding touches that looked instead to some of the more ironic and (to my mind) self-important productions of the 1980’s, but the Ring definitely came across as a psychodrama, rather than an allegory or a political statement. Unfortunately in Die Götterdämmerung the balance shifts away from seriousness and towards slapstick. Brunnhilde does not come across well prancing around holding a toy horse and the Rhinemaidens have got enough on their plate in the roles Wagner wrote for them without doing double duty as environmental protesters waving placards from an inflatable boat. And what on earth is going on during Siegfried’s Rhine journey?

From the perspective of singing and drama, Lance Ryan is definitely the weak link in the chain. In this performance he is very “shouty” for the first two acts, sacrificing accuracy to volume with occasionally disastrous results. His acting too is exaggerated. Siegfried is not a profound character. But he is not a brainless idiot either. It is not until his final scene culminating in “Brunnhilde, heilige braut” that it becomes clear why Ryan is so highly regarded – he can sing with a wonderful combination of delicacy and power when he puts his mind to it.

The highlight of the drama is Susan Bullock’s Brunnhilde. The exchange with Siegfried in the Prelude is not memorable (largely because of Ryan’s shouting), but she has a fine duet with Waltraute (Claudia Mahnke) and really comes into her own after that. The immolation scene is superb and makes up for all the shortcomings of the production. Bullock sings with great assurance, control, and emotional power. 

The other principals sing well, but do not stand out particularly. Gregory Frank’s Hagen is solid, but lacks the deep malevolence of the role’s finest exponents – as emerges clearly in the duet with Alberich (another good performance from Jochen Scheckenbecher, who was terrific in Rheingold and Siegfried). Anja Fidelia Ulrich does justice to the role of Gutrune, while Martin Kränzle does a fine job of portraying a pathetically weak Gunther.

Once again, Sebastian Weigle conducts extremely well, restoring some of the seriousness taken out by aspects of the production and driving the drama forwards with a great sense of structure and space. The PCM stereo sound nicely complements some good filming (although I have reservations about some of the occasional Brechtian moments when the cast and the cameras descend into the audience). This shouldn’t be anybody’s only Götterdämmerung, but committed Wagnerians will want to buy it for the fine conducting throughout and for the final two scenes.

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