Beginners’ Götterdämmerung

29 Jun

The title isn’t meant to be patronising but, as Opera North’s Ring reached its conclusion, it struck me that this was, pretty much an ideal staging for anyone new to the cycle.  It’s 35 years since audiences in the North East had a chance to hear the Ring on their doorstep and many at the performance at the Sage in Gateshead that I saw on 28th June would have been experiencing Götterdämmerung live for the first time.

The staging, as for the other operas tells the story simply. It’s very easy to follow the plot, the emotions of the characters are conveyed directly.  There are passages in Götterdämmerung where it’s quite easy for the mind to wander.  It didn’t here and it was a joy to be in an audience that was listening and engaging with barely a cough or a fidget.  The humanity of the characters was clear.  This was an accessible, clear and very, very good version.  This isn’t to say that I don’t miss the insights of more amitious productions (I won’t easily forget Brünnhilde being brought in with the paper bag over her head in Richard Jones’s production) but I don’t think, for example, that I’ve understood the words of the Immolation Scene so clearly or experienced a more immediate performance of the Waltraute scene than I have here.

As in the previous three operas, the performances have been led by the outstanding work of the Opera North orchestra under Richard Farnes.  Just watching Farnes, you have the sense of someone genuinely leading and in control and it is the clarity and the sureness of the pacing that I will take away from the these performances.  The two orchestral show pieces came off outstandingly well, as they ought to, but I’ll also remember the pauses, the management of the dialogue between singers and orchestra, the way in which he caught the dramatic mood, particularly in Act II and those dialogues between the characters so that the emotions were utterly clear.  This was compelling conducting.  Others may get more incandescence, possibly subtler playing, but this was hugely satisfying.

I don’t know how far this cast would work in a huge, acoustically challenging barn and having to ride over the orchestra. Here, stood in front, with nothing between them and the orchestra, they were excellent.  Alwyn Mellor hasn’t the sheer heft of many Brünnhildes but she conveys the wisdom, the sadness and the anger marvellously and her last scene was as moving as I’ve seen it.  Mati Turu Siegfried delivered his best singing in the narration at the end and, throughout, was enthusiastic, confident and you felt able to relax that he would be fine.  Mats Algrem made a lowering, vicious, disturbed Hagen who sang was magnificent malevolence.  Jo Pohlheim made his mark as Alberich.  Eric Greene was a nondescript Gunther, but Orla Boylan was a worried, basically decent Gutrune.  Susan Bickley was luxury casting as Waltraute and the sincerity and openness of her singing made her scene one of the highlights.  Good Rhinemaidens and Norns and predictably excellent work from the chorus.

I do hope they manage to put this cycle together and do them all in 2016 as they seem to be promising.  It’s been great to watch it being built up, but you can only get the whole experience by seeing them in close proximity.  The commitment and intelligence and sheer skill of the performances shows how wonderful Opera North can be and, as in all the others, we came out on a Wagner high, leitmotivs going round our heads and debating aspects of the work.  You can’t legitimately ask for more.

 

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