Götterdämmerung on the small screen

Following on from the previous week's transmission of the Royal Opera House production of Wagner's Siegfried, on Saturday the BBC broadcast the last opera in the Ring of the Nibelungs cycle, Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods). It started at 9.30 p.m., so those without Sky+ or a Freeview hard disk recorder would have had to stay up until half-past two in the morning... I recorded it and watched it across two evenings (the opera itself runs four-and-a-half hours - a real physical endurance test to watch live in the opera house).

The Siegfried was again John Treleaven - this time the role is slightly less demanding on the singer, though at first he sounded more wobbly in pitch than in Siegfried (he settled down in the later acts). Brünnhilde was again Lisa Gasteen. The family who plot their downfall were sung by John Tomlinson (Hagen), Peter Coleman-Wright (Gunther) and Emily Magee (Gutrune). Gunther is normally played as an honest man who is corrupted by his half-brother Hagen (the son of the evil dwarf Alberich who started the whole business): here he was played as a spoilt middle-aged playboy - not what Wagner intended, though it works reasonably well: their hall becomes a modern office block with glass walls. They give Siegfried a potion to make him forget Brünnhilde (though I see no reason why it should have affected his balance as well, leading him to sing while lying on the floor for the next five minutes). They plot to marry Gunther to Brünnhilde and Siegfried to Gutrune (who, as Anna Russell pointed out, is 'the first woman Siegfried has met who isn't his aunt').

The scene in which Siegfried, disguised as Gunther by the magic Tarnhelm, woos Brünnhilde takes place in the same set as the scene with Gunther's family and Siegfried - apparently taking place in Hagen's imagination. The transformation - with Siegfried singing but Gunther appearing - confused the plot, particularly with Siegfried/Gunther behaving in Gunther's louche manner - and doesn't entirely make clear the vital plot point that Siegfried does not sleep with Brünnhilde while in disguise (though Siegfried does explain this in Act 2)

When, in Act 2, Gunther returns with the furious and ashamed Brünnhilde as his bride, Hagen summons the vassals - here played as employees wearing business suits with the corporate logo. The hall contains statues of some of the Gods we saw in Rheingold, which Hagen and the vassals go through the motions of worshipping. In Act 3 Siegfried meets the Rhinemaidens (dressed like refugees), then is murdered by Hagen: in the final scene Brünnhilde rides her (invisible) horse onto Siegfried's funeral pyre, and instructs Loge to go to Valhalla and burn it and the Gods, thus freeing the world of men from their influence: a very spectacular piece of production to round off the cycle.

Though there were still a few too many tricks in the production (the producer seemed reluctant to let anyone sing for more than a few minutes without arranging some 'business') the power of the music and performances prevented the distractions from being serious: Gasteen in particular was magnificent as Brünnhilde, and the whole cast and orchestra under Pappano gave an exciting and involving performance: a good sound balance, too, on this worthwhile BBC transmission.

Posted: Tue - March 20, 2007 at 11:10 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM