Götterdämmerung – the third day of Der Ring des Nibelungen – Music drama in three Acts to a libretto by the composer [sung in German, with English surtitles]
First Norn – Mae Heydorn
Second Norn – Harriet Williams
Third Norn – Katie Lowe
Brünnhilde – Lee Bisset
Siegfried – Bradley Daley
Gunther – Benedict Nelson
Gutrune – Laure Meloy
Hagen – Julian Close
Alberich – Freddie Tong
Waltraute – Catherine Carby
Woglinde – Mari Wyn Williams
Wellgunde – Rebecca Afonwy-Jones
Flosshilde – Katie Stevenson
Longborough Festival Chorus and Orchestra
Amy Lane – Director
Rhiannon Newman Brown – Designer
Charlie Morgan Jones – Lighting
Emma Ryott – Costume
Tim Baxter – Video
Reviewed by: Peter Reed
Reviewed: 6 June, 2023
Venue: Longborough Festival Opera, Gloucestershire
The point is often made that the only props needed to stage Wagner’s ‘Ring’ cycle are a spear, a sword, a Tarnhelm and the Ring. To that list Amy Lane has added a leather-bound journal, which was also present in last year’s Siegfried, in the hands of the sybil-like Woodbird. We are probably meant to infer that the Ring myth is both already written and also a work in progress, and it’s a way of making the action seem suspended in past, present and future. We will have to wait until next year’s complete cycle to see if it features in Die Walküre, which, for Covid reasons, was limited to a concert production in 202.
In other respects, Lane’s production of Götterdämmerung is markedly spare, except for Tom Baxter’s elaborate video projections, an omnipresent sequence moving from the bottom of the Rhine to Valhalla’s lofty towers in elemental, sublime imagery, which makes the staging one of the most Nature-bound I’ve seen. This is not a cosmic ‘Ring’ cycle, but it is very political, making effective distinctions between the failing gods and power-crazed humanity. Moreover, the fact that a lot of the detail of Baxter’s video from Siegfried has stayed in the memory suggests that the complete cycles will have a strong cogency. The way the Norns presented Siegfried and Brünnhilde to play their part in the drama is very effective; the altars to the old gods were suitably disposable; and Siegfried’s funeral music overwhelmed in its sense of loss.
The evening, including the two hours of Act One, sped by, lit up by vivid characterisation and singing, all of the singers skilfully negotiating the demands of Wagner’s text and music, the size of the theatre making this the most conversational and interactive of Rings. Bradley Daley’s Siegfried wasn’t as nuanced as last year, but the hero’s stout-hearted innocence is all there. His tenor has more baritone weight, which served his brashness well, and despite stretched vocal strength in Act Three, his understanding of events was too little, too late and completely convincing.
I did wonder if Benedict Nelson’s Gunther might have been based on a modern politician, with a biddable morality expressed in suave, insinuating singing, while his sister Gutrune, played by Laure Meloy as a sort of hausfrau hostess, added considerable depth to the role. Her grief at the murder of Siegfried, her husband of a few hours, was devastating. Catherine Carby’s gripping portrait of Waltraute begging Brünnhilde to return the ring piled on the gods’ anguish; and, looking as though he had been just disinterred, Alberich’s ghostly appearance to Hagen sung with soft menace by Freddie Tong, had a by-product in making him seem more human.
Julian Close’s superb Hagen is one of the two roles anchoring the psychological complexity. Close sang with huge, effortless voice, and from his first appearance, manipulating the marital prospects of Gunther and Gutrune, you never doubted that calamity had entered the Gibichung court. This Hagen embodied wickedness and was magnificent. The other crucial performance is Lee Bisset’s as Brünnhilde, vocally generous with an occasionally wild vibrato and in complete command of the drama. Her soprano is more steel and suppleness than sumptuous spread, and she moved between the habit of Brünnhilde’s lost Valkyrie divinity and mortal vulnerability with spellbinding conviction, delivering an Immolation of humbling intensity. The two trios of Norns and Rhinemaidens are vocally exceptional and well directed, as is the impressive chorus of vassals.
By the time he wrote Götterdämmerung, Wagner was complete master of his Leitmotif technique, and Anthony Negus was unfailingly in command of the score’s expressive scene-setting, story-telling flexibility. You might not know that a particular motif represents, say, Wotan’s authority or Brünnhilde’s disobedience, but Negus and his ever-responsive orchestra take us through the drama with uncanny accuracy. As this great Wagner conductor brought things to a close, Wotan and the gods assembled around the lifeless Siegfried and Brünnhilde, rather like the angels surrounding Hansel and Gretel, a gesture proposing that, after all, the gods might prevail.