Sunday afternoon I was thrilled to attend the Canadian Opera's Gotterdammerung in its second performance of the run starring the amazing Christine Goerke as Brunnhilde and joined by a superbly talented cast that truly made this unexciting production so memorable
Siegfried Andreas Schager
Brünnhilde Christine Goerke
Hagen Ain Anger
Alberich Robert Pomakov
First Norn Lindsay Ammann
Waltraute/Second Norn Karen Cargill
Gutrune/Third Norn Ileana Montalbetti
Gunther Martin Gantner
Woglinde Danika Lorèn
Wellgunde Lauren Eberwein
Flosshilde Lindsay Ammann
Conductor: Johannes Debus
Director: Tim Albery
Production Designer: Michael Levine
Lighting Designer: David Finn
Choreographer: Patti Powell
Chorus Master: Sandra Horst
The stark modern dress production reminded me somewhat of last year's DC Ring by Francesca Zambello, but was even sparser, with less directorial content and truly lacked feeling for many of the characters. I am clueless as to what these people were feeling except from their voices. I wanted so much more after last year's superb production of Siegfried in Toronto!
At the first chord of this opera, I always get tingles, which I did here but then went blah when the curtain rose to reveal strands of cord across the top of the stage, two metal telephone pole like metal shafts (one rear left and one rear forward) and the Norns laying down in black outfits; a pulsing red light from the rear stared at us.
As the women rose they seemed to be in black trenchcoats with different black knit or similar caps, kerchiefs or such. They grabbed three red yarn-like strands off the floor and began to move forward and back over and under the strands as they wove. It reminded me of a human cat's cradle. What was so amazing was the musical depth the three ladies delivered in their short retelling of the story and ominous foretelling of the future. Lindsay Amman duplicated her amazing success as the First Norn with a voice that seems to get deeper and deeper and more burnished each time I hear her. Her two cohorts were just as impressive. Ultimately they pulled the string taught and a huge lightening-like flash came as the ropes broke. I would have loved for all the strands at the top of the stage to fall, but no.
The scene changes (if you can call it that) and now a long line of red lights at the rear about 5 feet off the stage floor shine into our eyes almost blinding us, ultimately fading so we can see a bed with the couple and Brunnhilde's Walkyrie gown from the last opera is on a headless dummy dress stand. Siegfried is in pants and a T-shirt looking a bit slovenly, but Brunnhilde looks like a goddess with her hair perfectly coiffed after a night of wild sex. She is in a black negligee and silken gray robe. From the start I was impressed with Mr. Schager, another amazing heldentenor to add to the list of so many new ones we have had here and in Washington in the past years! There is no strain in his voice and it grew better and better with intensity to a huge climax in their short duet. I love coming to the Four Seasons Centre for many reasons: great acoustics, comfortable seats, great sightlines and amazing sound that fills the hall. This loving couple gave us even more with their huge voices surrounding us and making us all melt. The entire short sequence built and built to an orgasmic climax.
We move to the Gibichung realm with rows of fluorescent lights over a desk with computer at the right and long modern modular red sofa at the left. A white sheer drape runs across the rear which parts later when Siegfried arrives. the chairs were black leather and chrome giving it a very 60's feel. The men are in austere dark suits and Gutrune is in a long black dress giving her the same austere fell as the entire production evinced. I did not recall hearing Mr. Anger in DC in Dutchman two years ago, but I won't forget him now. His bass is formidable, and while he did a great job as Daland in DC, here in Toronto he was a true standout in every scene he was in. He is tall and has a forceful presence that cannot be forgotten and a voice that booms, pierces and truly bowled me over.
Siegfried arrives, now in a leather jacket with rucksack and sword, looking even a bit more slovenly. At the beginning of the scene I was less impressed with Mr. Gantner's Gunther, but by his oath with Siegfried he really seemed to get better. Hagen's musings at the end of the scene truly had Mr. Anger in the forefront again with his beautiful bass. It was so ominous when he called, "Nibelungen sohn..."
Back at Brunnhilde's Rock the bed is aside to the rear right and seems to be almost suspended above the stage, but later I see it is propped up on a table. Brunnhilde is setting a dinette (card) table with utensils, plates, wine glasses and wine. Waltraute enters in the same Victorian style ruffled gown the Walkyries wore earlier. Ms. Goerke has me really feeling sorry for her when her prayer thinking that Wotan has forgiven her is the reason for her sister's coming. Ms. Cargill gave us a formidable retelling of Wotan's woes as well as her entreaty to her sister to save the gods as they sit at the dinette table. It was SO HUMAN! Ms. Goerke's voice soared as she sang of how the ring means Siegfried's love for her crying "gebracht" when she does not care of Valhalla falling in ruins. Upset, she grabs the gown on the dummy and throws it over.
Siegfried and Gunther both are actually on stage for the ensuing scene, with the hero at the front left in his Tarnhelm (here more like a medieval king's bronze or gold circular crown) with Gunther(holding Nothung) towards the rear approaching Brunnhilde and ultimately taking some wine. In his fury, he throws the table and chairs over spilling everything and grabs Brunnhilde and ultimately the ring. As they get into the bed with the sword between them, the lights go intensely red again as the last note is played and the first act ends.
In Act II we return to Gunther's realm but now a huge boardroom like table is there with two computers on it. Hagen at the right and in the dark shadows, Alberich at the rear in office chairs. This production was so sparse with no bed, that Hagen could only be half asleep in the chair and it lacked the magic of an Alberich rising to haunt his son, like our superb effect in DC had. At least the singing was excellent.
The scene really did not change except for a set of cascading fluorescent lamps above in a 5x4 pattern and the computers being removed to make a platform at the stage center. Gutrune brings in coffee and Hagen comes to the front of the stage with a penetrating voice as the chorus enters and removes their jackets and rolls their sleeves up sitting in office chairs on wheels all around. Brunnhilde in black slip with gray trench coat comes in with Gunther and Siegfried reappears in a black tux(no tie, open shirt and hair now combed) ready for the wedding and Gutrune in a gorgeous black gown laden and diamond jewelry. The men sit around the table as Brunnhilde is atop and extremely distraught as Gunther attempts to take her and she pulls it back and gasps in horror at the thought of being with him. Ms. Goerke's accusation scene was cold and calculated in a way that it should be as this women is in shock; I thought she was going to really hit Siegfried. The oath over Hagen's sword (here the men all had steel javelin-like weapons) had Mr. Schager soaring once again as his tenor voice rang though the hall. Brunnhilde was slumped in a chair totally bereft yet Ms. Goerke's voice soared and penetrated with anger and despair and then turns to cunning. Gunther in this production is an older man (60's) and yet offered intensity when he utters "Siegfried's tod!" and Brunnhilde realizes what she has done. The ending trio had each of them in their own delirious world as the women come on carrying white veils and dresses for Brunnhilde. She is on the platform as the women surround it and ultimately tears off the veil they have placed on her head.
Returning to the hall the orchestra received a monstrous ovation from the appreciate crowd. The curtain rose to reveal the red pulsing light from the beginning of Act I with an unmade bed at the center. The Rhinemaidens are in black with purses on chairs at the right and looked more like the Norns of Act I. I laughed as they pulled out nailfiles and did an entire scene choreographed with leg crossing. As Siegfried's horn calls they strip off their black trenchcoats to reveal white undergarments with two jumping in the bed and one under it.
Oddly they leave the stage to Siegfried after a while and return in black coats only to disrobe again to nightgowns. I missed the playful maidens that should be really hitting on the hero, rather than multiple quick costume changes.
The lights go bright and the hunters come in as Siegfried begins to tell his tale and what another wonderful chance to show off his ringing tenor. At the climax Hagen stabs him and two men dressed as black ravens bring in a woman clad in white. I was completely lost as I did not recall this as last year's bird and just thought it was a total mess. At least the Funeral Music made me forget it for a while.
We moved on to the final scene with the cascading fluorescent lights again above. Ms. Cargill was superb here and got her Gutrune scene just right before the dead Siegfried is brought in. Hagen strangles his half-brother and the lights rise up as Brunnhilde enters, again all in black.
The Immolation scene was a tour de force as Ms. Goerke stood over Siegfreid's body until the told the crowd to obey and they all left.
Hagen was barely visible at the back left in what seemed the far off distance as she sagn. "Ruhe o Gott" and 5 men entered to carry off he hero's body. The stage was virtually black save for Hagen & Brunnhilde and it was a truly moving moment and one that was truly beautifully staged. The chorus brings on pieces of buildings (domes, columns, etc) which I correctly figured were Valhalla (I later found out these were used in Rheingold 4 years earlier, but I had not seen that. The pieces are lit with red light as Valhalla burns.
After 5 hours, Ms. Goerke soared with intensity that never faltered or skipped the entire afternoon and truly sent us home with a memory to retain forever. She is joined by the Rhinemaidens (now in white and blond wigs) as they dance in a circle and hold the ring high. Hagen tries to grab and ultimately is drowned, although this was not that clear as he just feel to the floor. Everyone else basically turns and walks toward the rear as the opera ended...I needed a bit more, but again I HAD THAT MUSIC and one of the best casts ever for sure.
ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC
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