Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Semperoper Dresden: Götterdämmerung

1 November 2017

Christian Thielemann conducts two complete Ring cycles in Dresden early next year, but I’ve been experiencing the tetralogy at a slow pace as he’s been building it up over the past 21 months or so: he began with Walküre early last year and followed it up with Rheingold a year ago and Siegfried in January.

Nina Stemme (Brünnhilde), Andreas Schager (Siegfried) (Photo © Klaus Gigga)

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Such an arrangement doesn’t help for overall appreciation of Willy Decker’s production (first seen here in the early 2000s), but it struck me as being at its very best in this final instalment: uncluttered, understated and often deeply moving. 

Indeed, dramatically speaking, I think this was the most moving performance of this grandest of grand finales that I’ve seen, to a large extent because of the detailed characterisation as revived here—no revival director was credited as such, but Alexander Brendel and Bernd Gierke were on the bill for Abendspielleitung and Regieassistenz respectively—matched by terrific acting from about as good a cast as one could expect to see in the piece these days.

Nina Stemme’s now familiar Brünnhilde retained a powerful sense of nobility throughout, and she still sings with astonishing power and commitment, even if the voice seemed to take a little while to crank up to full power.

Iain Paterson’s Gunther was outstanding, impeccably sung and charting a detailed trajectory louche lack of concern to a painful realisation of what he was becoming part of. 
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Falk Struckmann remains a bass-baritone rather than a true bass, but his complex timbre—an oily maelstrom of blacks and greys—made for a properly threatening and commanding Hagen. Edith Haller’s vulnerable, desperate Gutrune added to a fully convincing picture, as did Christa Mayer’s moving, impassioned Waltraute.

Andreas Schager had some moments of strain as Siegfried—only the truly superhuman don't—but rang out heroically, creating a believable figure quick to be seduced, desperate to join in with Hagen and Gunther as if starved of some good old laddish high jinks. 

Helped by the clear-minded economy of the production—the stage emptied as a weary, heartbroken Wotan slowly walked on to observe—Schager delivered a death scene shocking power, underlined by conducting of almost suffocating dramatic weight from Thielemann.

Iain Paterson (Gunther), Andreas Schager (Siegfried), Nina Stemme (Brünnhilde) (Photo © Klaus Gigga)

The conductor’s approach to this score, as before, is grandly expansive, always rooted deep in some primeval harmonic soil, often daringly drawn out and often also, it has to be said, rather pear-shaped: the lower brass are allowed to create a bulbousness in the overall sound that, as in the final minutes of the Immolation Scene, engulfs all else. Elsewhere, particularly in Act 2, the singers struggled to be heard against an orchestral backdrop that the conductor seemed unwilling to pare down.

Sabrina Kögel (Wellgunde) (Photo © Klaus Gigga)
But it’s a small price to pay for a musical vision that is so coherent and imposing, which attempts, it seems, at every turn to convey the sheer vastness of Wagner’s own conception. And the playing of Staatskapelle was, on the whole, magnificent, offering a sound of rounded refinement and silky virtuosity.

A final word for Decker’s production and Wolfgang Dussmann’s designs. In the previous instalments we’d had the idea of the tetralogy being staged by Wotan himself, variously performed and observed by the cycle’s characters. 

It had occasionally felt a little fussy. Here, though, it came together as vision of remarkably refreshing clarity and poetic beauty: an object lesson in economy and musical sensitivity that reached a highpoint at the very end. Wellgunde slowly rolled on a new virgin sphere—a sphericus rasus?—as the cast-audience of the previous drama sank down behind a white frame. 

She stood there still, turning towards us only as, after a daringly drawn-out pause, Thielemann let the final redemptive bars sing out. It was a stunning moment.

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