2016 Melbourne Ring
11/28/2016 - & December 7, 16, 2016
Richard Wagner: Götterdämmerung
Tania Ferris (First Norn), Jacqueline Dark (Second Norn), Anna-Louise Cole (Third Norn), Lise Lindstrom (Brünnhilde), Stefan Vinke (Siegfried), Luke Gabbedy (Gunther), Daniel Sumegi (Hagen), Taryn Feibig (Gutrune), Sian Pendry (Waltrune), Warwick Fyfe (Alberich), Lorina Gore (Woglinde), Jane Ede (Wellgunde), Dominica Matthews (Flosshilde)
Opera Australia Chorus, Anthony Hunt (Chorusmaster), Melbourne Ring Orchestra, Pietari Inkinen (Conductor), Anthony Legge (Associate Conductor)
Neil Armfield (Director), Robert Cousins (Set Designer), Alice Babidge (Costume Designer), Damien Cooper (Lighting Designer), Jim Atkins (Sound Designer), Kate Champion, Roger Press (Associate Directors)
S. Vinke, L. Lindstrom (© Jeff Busby)
Götterdämmerung is a difficult work to stage as much because of the sheer immensity of it as for the meanderings, repetition and divergence of the plot. So much of what is expected of the decline and fall of the gods remains unseen; and so much of what is seen is peripheral to the central plot. As with the first three instalments, director Neil Armfield pares back much of theatrical splendour associated with The Ring. He condenses Wagner’s vision for multiple scenes into single locales in a simplified, ideas-driven commentary upon human impact on the global environment. There remains a strong “everyman” element to the characters of Siegfried and Brünnhilde very much in keeping with Mr. Armfield’s intention of creating a work of “peoples’ theatre”.
For characters mystically fundamental to the fate of the world, the Norns are surprisingly ordinary, everyday people. They work repairing the museum diorama which had been savagely torn apart by the giants in Das Rheingold. The now faint illustration of Valhalla is inverted; the whole concept of a home for the gods is a theatrical trick which has become worn and dilapidated with age. Three impressive voices are assembled in this humdrum trio of matrons: Tania Ferris, Jacqueline Dark and Anna-Louise Cole are highly adept in both solo and ensemble moments.
In the first Act, so much happens but so much is reprise of the story already told. Moments of conversation convey huge plot development, stretching credulity in a production so firmly grounded in the ‘reality’ of everyday life. Wagner’s plot moves from being driven by the inherent qualities of character towards the impact of outer influences such as magic potions. Set Designer Robert Cousins has worked meticulously with Costumier Alice Babidge to tell a great deal of the story in visual imagery. The Gibichung Hall is a skeletal barn which stretches over the stage. It rolls into place from impenetrable blackness at the rear and will stay in place for the rest of the production. Gunther and Hagen are naval officers, their sister Gutrune a princess of the bourgeoisie – jewellery, hair and leisure suits for the private gym which is their Hall. They are the pampered off-spring of the nouveau riche, against whom, Siegfried is an unsophisticated yokel. Daniel Sumegi augments his role as Fasolt reincarnated as the equally threatening if more hardened Hagen; his marvellously rich bass booms threat and evil into every corner of the auditorium. Luke Gabbedy’s baritone is a perfect foil to this depth of evil. He is slightly more human, slightly uneasy with the plot to deceive Siegfried but not above accepting the spoils. Taryn Feibig is one of Opera Australia’s most seen and heard artists. Her powerful, supple soprano is a splendid vocal match of the three powerful men with whom she shares the stage.
Stefan Vinke rides the roller-coaster of disposition and mood changes for the character of Siegfried with slick composure. He quickly becomes a boorish braggart, groping the hapless Gutrune and pandering to the “Boy’s Own” image of masculinity pedalled by the Gibichungs. As much as Brünnhilde has transformed into a terrified vulnerable mortal, he has turned into an ‘alpha male’ of the worst persuasion. Mr. Vinke’s muscular heldentenor holds steady throughout this marathon of singing. His voice as robust at the conclusion as it was in the beginning.
Lise Lindstrom goes from strength to strength in this panoply of character traits which defines her role. Her acting skills are consummate and we are totally drawn into her portrait and enthralled by the luscious beauty of her singing. Brünnhilde becomes at once fragile and mortal while maintaining her memories of godliness.
In the second Act, the ribs of the barn become a wedding marquee. In semi darkness, Alberich slides and creeps towards his son igniting the hatred which will destroy them. Warwick Fyfe sustains his chilling portrayal of this character in this brief final appearance. The marquee is festooned with kitsch pink and white floral arrangements and populated by an “everyman” chorus of widely diverse physical proportions. Opera Australia has marshalled a huge chorus for this final show of the cycle. Superbly trained by Anthony Hunt they muster a massive wall of sound rivalling, while complementing the huge orchestral force. This is a wedding of suburban dimensions; an exercise in poor taste with the bride wearing a monstrous concoction of a gown, flanked by brash bridesmaids in lurid cerise. Contrasted with this, Brünnhilde is refined and sophisticated in a chic sheath dress belying the turmoil tearing at her.
Having planned the revenge, betrayal and retribution, the final Act is set to bring the plot to its denouement, the gods to their destruction and humanity towards its redemption. No small task for an essentially blank stage broken only by the skeleton of the barn. Mr. Armflield has returned to the staging simplicity he employed at the end of Die Walküre to focus on the drama inherent in text and score.
The Rhine maidens are now tatty remnants of their former glamour; Siegfried has become the antithesis of a hero telling and retelling his boyhood stories, harking to past glories; and greed, hunger for power and revenge pollute the world. This is the perfect setting in which to kill off any remnants of chivalry and honour; to plunder Earth’s riches for personal desire. In remarkable juxtaposition to the onstage action, a sense of dignity and heroism is returned to Siegfried through Mr. Vinke’s eloquent singing as much as the exquisite orchestral playing in the Death Scene. The character’s quiet demise comes as a contrast to his earlier self-important reminiscences.
“Brünnhilde’s Immolation” is deftly handled by Ms. Lindstrom. Understated staging allows no distraction from the power of words and music depicting her tumult of passion. Her old world is dying from its own over-indulgence and her new world is torn apart by that most human of traits: self-interest. Lise Lindstrom is triumphant as she rekindles the spirit of nobility and courage to achieve redemption. She unleashes a powerful torrent of sound elegantly capturing the many emotions of this final part of the story. The ‘sea of humanity’ from Das Rheingold flood over the stage, laying floral tributes at the feet of the two characters who have now become a hideous travesty of wedding cake decorations. The barn carcass erupts in flames as the rear wall of the stage rises to reveal that the human world has been witness to this downfall of the gods. We can only hypothesise about the lessons they/we will draw from this demise.
This is overwhelmingly good theatre which resulted in a spontaneous standing ovation, enraptured curtain-calls and boisterous outpouring of admiration when the Melbourne Ring Orchestra were brought to the stage to receive their recognition from the audience.
This revival of “The Melbourne Ring Cycle” is a winning accomplishment in every sense: fine music-making and outstanding singing; intellectually challenging staging and design; and dazzling theatricality and entertainment. The production has matured and benefitted from the re-telling.