A new beginning: Götterdämmerung at the Bayerische Staatsoper

Wagner – Götterdämmerung 

Siegfried – Lance Ryan
Gunther – Markus Eiche
Hagen – Hans-Peter König
Alberich – Christopher Purves
Brünnhilde – Petra Lang
Gutrune – Anna Gabler
Waltraute – Michaela Schuster
Woglinde – Nakamura Eri
Wellgunde – Angela Brower
Floßhilde – Okka von der Damerau
1. Norn – Okka von der Damerau
2. Norn – Helena Zubanovich
3. Norn – Anna Gabler

Statisterie der Bayerischen Staatsoper, Chor und Extrachor der Bayerischen Staatsoper, Bayerisches Staatsorchester / Kirill Petrenko.
Stage director – Andreas Kriegenburg

Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater, Munich.  Sunday, December 13th, 2015.

One of the first shows that I saw in 2015 was a Rheingold at the Oper Leipzig.  Tonight in one of the last shows of the year, I was at the Nationaltheater for the Bayerische Staatsoper’s production of Götterdämmerung.  It was an ideal way to start to bring to a close a phenomenal year of opera-going and I’ll come right out and say that tonight, the real heroes of the night were the ladies and gentlemen of the outstanding Staatsorchester and the Staatsopernchor who played better than I’ve ever heard them play before and really gave absolutely everything they had for their chief, Kirill Petrenko.

The staging was by Andreas Kriegenburg and I found it a highly stimulating piece of theatre.  Without having seen the full cycle it’s perhaps difficult to appraise all of Kriegenburg’s ideas but what I saw tonight completely convinced me of his vision.  In a way his is a story about the faceless majority and in many ways has much in common with Bieito’s recent Turandot.  In both cases, the message is the same – it takes one person to change the world but the rest of us to make it happen.  The curtain opens to a community of people dressed in black who appeared to have suffered from a nuclear accident.  Men in hazmat suits scan them for radiation and they are led away with their suitcases.  During the course of the next 6 hours, we are made aware of the group of extras as a constant presence on stage.  On Brünnhilde’s rock, their hands are seen holding up the structure; in the Gibichung Hall – which is designed as a corporate headquarters – they are seen working in a glassed-off area around the action; as Siegfried travels up the Rhine, they form his boat.  Kriegenburg’s message appears to be that capitalism is built on the backs of the silent majority and this majority is simply a passive observer of events.  This was exemplified by the way the crowd observed Siegfried’s corpse in Act 3, how Gutrune tried to seduce Siegfried by riding on a Euro currency symbol and how the table for the wedding banquet was set up also as a Euro currency symbol.  For the elites, money is all that matters and Hagen, Alberich and Gunther were dressed in suits as corporate executives.

Petra Lang, Ensemble © Wilfried Hösl
Petra Lang, Ensemble © Wilfried Hösl
Another aspect that I found interesting was Kriegenburg’s use of smartphones to film Brünnhilde’s arrival to the Gibichung Hall in Act 2.  There the chorus film the events on their phones – we are led to speculate that this might appear on YouTube at a later date, but also that we as a people are more in control of disseminating information than ever, yet the events portrayed are out of our control and are in the hands of the elites.  The closing pages are exceptionally powerful, Gutrune is left heartbroken on stage and as the redemption through love motif rings out, the crowd, now dressed in white, circle her and comfort her.  I found it an incredibly moving image – the people creating a new future based on love and compassion away from the gods of money.

Vocally it was somewhat more mixed.  Petra Lang’s Brünnhilde was extremely intense from the very beginning.  She phrased her music with generosity and good attention to the text.  She clearly understands the music and she attacked the very top notes fearlessly.  Unfortunately, her tone sits under the note so she was flat throughout the entire evening, although curiously the very top of the voice was the only part that was most consistently in tune.  She was audibly tired towards the end of Act 2 and got through the immolation scene through sheer energy.  The tone is narrow and lacks the cutting power to be able to carry over the tumultuous orchestral sound.  It’s a massive sing and she gave it absolutely everything she had but I’m afraid to say that for me, it didn’t make for comfortable listening.  She was warmly received by the Munich public who gave her a rapturous ovation.

Petra Lang © Wilfried Hösl
Petra Lang © Wilfried Hösl
In the scene with Waltraute, Michaela Schuster was absolutely gripping.  The voice was huge and opened up fabulously at the top while also demonstrating a nicely warm bottom register.  Her use of the text was stunning – she made every word count and genuinely lived her role.  Anna Gabler’s Gutrune showcased a slender yet rich soprano that carried well.  Her tone has a milky beauty that I would think ideal for Strauss and her pointing of the text was excellent.  She ran out of steam in the more declamatory passages at the very end but she’s certainly a singer I’d like to hear again.  The trios of Norns and Rhinemadens were both excellent and a credit to the house.

Lance Ryan’s Siegfried was absolutely tireless.  His isn’t the most glamorous tenor but the sound is robust, big and bold and hits the listener like a laser beam at the very top.  He also shaded his music with great delicacy when required.  At no point did I fear he wouldn’t last the course.  Markus Eiche brought his well-rounded and muscular baritone to the role of Gunther.  He sang with genuine musicality, handsome tone but also exceptionally clear diction.  The voice sounds so healthy that even at the end of the evening he sounded as fresh as he did at the start.  Hans-Peter König’s Hagen was less of a bruiser than we are often used to.  Indeed, he was at his best in the more reflective parts of the score.  His bass is an instrument of great tonal beauty yet he didn’t quite sound as massive as one might have expected in his summoning of his vassals.  It is undeniably an exceptionally beautiful instrument and I would certainly like to hear him again in a role such as Philippe in Don Carlos which suits him very well.  Christopher Purves was an insinuating Alberich, with his voice never losing the core when singing softly but becoming somewhat abrasive when singing loudly.

Petra Lang & Hans-Peter König © Wilfried Hösl
Petra Lang & Hans-Peter König © Wilfried Hösl
As I mentioned at the start the real heroes of the piece were the house forces.  The chorus was phenomenal – the sound was massive, pinning me to the back of my seat with incredible amplitude and highly focused tone.  The orchestra distinguished itself with playing of exceptional depth of tone.  Yes, I could mention the suspect intonation in the cellos in one of the early interludes and a few fluffed horn notes in Act 3, but this was playing that was truly worthy of one of the world’s leading houses.  The brass in particular really demonstrated a remarkable warmth and strength.  There have been times when I have found Kirill Petrenko to conduct measure by measure rather than taking a long view of a piece.  There were a few moments when I felt that tonight, for example in the interlude between the prologue and Act 1 and yet, by the end of the evening, I was completely convinced.  Petrenko led a reading that was sensitive to the singers but also gave that magnificent orchestra the space it needed to really open up with theatre-filling sound.  The Trauermarsch exemplified that approach, starting from almost nothing it opened up to a glorious brass and string-fuelled climax.  The closing pages were overwhelming, waves of glorious sound filling the auditorium with the remarkable visuals perfectly matching the orchestral sound.  Tonight undoubtedly showed the Staatsoper at its very best.

Hans-Peter König & Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper © Wilfried Hösl
Hans-Peter König & Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper © Wilfried Hösl
Indeed, tonight was an exceptional evening and coming on right on the heels of that extraordinary Fiery Angel last night confirmed that Munich is home to one of the world’s greatest lyric theatres.  Tonight we were given an intelligent and deeply moving staging by a director who clearly understands the work and has succeeded in making it extremely pertinent to our time.  Vocally, there was much that was outstanding and even though the leading lady was ultimately mis-cast she gave us everything she had.  It was certainly well sung on the whole but what tonight really showcased was the excellence of the Staatsoper forces who gave us playing and singing of the very highest quality.  The message of Kriegenburg’s staging is a simple yet extremely timely one.  We can make a difference to the world we live in and we can have a better future, we just have to believe in it.  Yes, it does take one person to start things off, but we can all make a difference.  This was an unforgettable evening in the theatre, one that will stay with me for a very long time.



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