Der Ring des Nibelungen: Götterdämmerung by the Mariinsky Opera

Gotterdammerung © N.Razina (2) (1)The final part of Wagner’s epic masterpiece begins and ends with a group of three sisters, creating a kind of elegant symmetry both within the show itself and across the Ring Cycle as a whole – a satisfying circularity appropriate to its title and themes, that lends the story’s outcome a sense of inevitability.

At the start of the Mariinsky Opera’s Götterdämmerung, the three Norns – daughters of Erda and weavers of fate – appear on a relatively empty stage, with dimmed lighting coloured a warning red. Surrounding them, silent, dreadlocked dancers are arranged in a ring, passing the Norns’ rope around their circle to maintain a delicate status quo until the rope runs out, having broken on the rocks it was tied to. Themselves embodying the broken strands, the dancers separate, and as they exit, their loping gait and contorted poses create the image of fate itself trudging miserably and unwillingly onwards, powerless to prevent the catastrophe that humans, dwarfs and gods alike will bring upon themselves. It’s a powerful opening, setting a dark tone for the rest of the show.

Götterdämmerung features another excellent Siegfried/Brünnhilde pairing in Andreas Schager and Larisa Gogolevskaya. Some time having elapsed between the events of Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, the characters that we meet at the start of the show have changed significantly in the interim. Stripped of her armour and dramatic hair and make-up, Brünnhilde immediately seems much meeker and more vulnerable than previously, and Gogolevskaya’s performance reflects this change: initially passive, contained and apparently content with domesticity, it’s difficult to equate this mortal woman with the powerful warrior and demi-goddess we encountered in Die Walküre. Siegfried, meanwhile, though as cheerful and energetic as ever, has lost a little of his callowness, having begun to absorb some of his lover’s wisdom. More important than any knowledge she might have imparted, however, is the fact that he has learned to respect another person.

Meanwhile, in the court of King Gunther, Mikhail Petrenko reappears as the king’s half-brother and closest adviser, Hagen. The son of the ring’s creator, Alberich, Hagen is bitter and twisted, fed on hate and spurred on by jealousy of his more noble, legitimate siblings. Another of Mariinsky’s genuine stars, Petrenko is perfect in the role, conveying the loathing and malice bubbling away beneath a thin exterior of calm and composure. His deep, sonorous voice has apparently designated him the “baddie” of the company – he previously portrayed both Hunding and Fafner in his dragon form – but despite some stand-out acting in the former role, this is the first of his three parts that really gives him space to show off his vocal talents. Mlada Khudoley also makes an excellent Gutrune, in great voice and giving a more nuanced acting performance than in her previous part as Sieglinde.

1Soon after arriving at Gunther’s hall, Siegfried is tricked by Hagen into forgetting all about his beloved, in order that he might marry Gutrune while Brünnhilde is herself claimed by Gunther. Upon his drinking a magic potion brewed by Hagen, all memory of Brünnhilde is washed away, and with it all her teachings: at this point, we see Siegfried revert back to his conceited former self, only this time, he comes off as considerably more dislikeable.

Back on Brünnhilde’s mountain, one of her former fellows risks Wotan’s anger by showing up to warn her sister of the grave danger the gods and the world as a whole are in. This Valkyrie, Waltraute, is played by Olga Savova, who brings the same powerful stage presence, stunning voice and emotional depth to this part that made her so compelling as Brünnhilde in Die Walküre.

Gunther’s court features some of the Cycle’s best set design, with grand pillars supporting a moveable platform that creates a sort of smaller, second stage, allowing action to take place on two levels and adding a sense of depth and scale to the show. This works particularly well when Hagen calls the army to prepare for Brünnhilde’s arrival, bellowing orders at the soldiers from high above them. The soldiers themselves are also excellent: this is the only part of the Ring Cycle to feature a chorus, and as a result, this scene is one of Götterdämmerung‘s most visually and musically striking moments. More gorgeous lighting creates the mood, with a sunset sky burning a bright, blood red in anticipation of the tragedy that will follow.

It’s upon Brünnhilde’s learning of her betrayal by Siegfried that Gogolevskaya really comes into her own acting-wise, balancing disbelief and confusion with horror, humiliation and fury. From this point on, we seem to see another version of Brünnhilde – no longer the mild, passive creature that appeared at the start of the show and allowed herself to be captured for Gunther, but the steely demi-goddess who once collected dying heroes from battlefields. Ultimately Götterdämmerung is Brünnhilde’s story, and Gogolevskaya rises to the emotional challenges of the end of the show: all eyes are upon her as the character makes her final, fatal decision.

It’s a fantastic end to truly incredible series of shows, and an experience I feel very privileged to have had. Next week, I’ll be attending two more operas at the Hippodrome – Carmen and Moses in Egypt – this time performed by the Welsh National Opera. They’ve definitely got a tough act to follow!

Header image by N. Razina. Second photograph by Alexander Shapunov.

Ringside: Film, Music and Adventure Inspired by Richard Wagner

ringsideTo celebrate the Mariinsky Opera’s upcoming performance of the Ring Cycle at the Birmingham Hippodrome, a series of special events were held over the weekend, each inspired by Richard Wagner’s iconic work. Across Saturday and Sunday, visitors were invited to enjoy a wide range of free and cheap performances around Birmingham’s Southside area.

Saturday’s Ringside programme kicked off at 11am with One of Our Singers is Missing, an interactive show that took the form of a kind of treasure hunt or murder mystery game, suitable for kids and grown-ups of all ages. Every 15 minutes throughout the day, small teams were sent off to search for a purportedly missing Mariinsky Opera singer named Albert. All was not what it first seemed, however: a simple walk round Southside soon turned into an epic adventure, that saw participants encounter a range of otherworldly beings who assisted them in the discovery of an all-powerful ring. A fun, free way to pass a Saturday afternoon with friends and family, One of Our Singers is Missing also offered a great opportunity to get to know Southside and perhaps to visit somewhere new.

DSCF3348[1]At 4pm, dramatist, author, musician and composer Neil Brand discussed the impact of Wagnerian opera on film music through the ages in the theatre’s Patrick Centre. His engaging two-part talk, Film Music and the Ghost of Wagner, explored explored the emotional and psychological effects of soundtracks on audiences, and how styles and dramatic structures first used by Wagner have always played an important part in making the movies what they are. Using examples ranging from early silent films to contemporary superhero blockbusters, Brand offered a fascinating and enlightening insight into the relationship between sound and pictures. In addition to examining the work of some of his favourite film composers, Brand also demonstrated how subtle changes in music can completely alter our perception of a story by playing two different versions of an accompanying score alongside silent footage of a shipwreck.

Neil Brand (credit TOM CATCHESIDES)The talk was immediately followed by a free concert in the theatre foyer, with students and former students of the Birmingham Conservatoire performing the “Siegfried Idyll”, a beautiful melody based on one of Brunnhilde’s songs from Der Ring des Nibelungen, thought to have been composed by Wagner as a sort of love letter to his wife. The Conservatoire played the piece perfectly: it was magnificent to listen to, and a great taster for the Ring Cycle itself, which will be staged from Wednesday through to Sunday this week. The evening then rounded off with cabaret from Kit and McConnel, who performed their opera-inspired comedy show The Fat Lady Sings.

Conservatoire SIEGFRIEDOn Sunday afternoon, The Electric Cinema played host to a special screening of Fritz Lang’s Siegfried, widely acknowledged as a masterpiece of the silent era. The film was accompanied by a live piano score from Neil Brand, who played throughout the film (over two hours) with an unflagging energy. The movie itself is a really interesting take on the myth that makes some significant changes to the story, notably that Brunhild is actively scorned by Siegfried rather than him being tricked into forgetting her. It also features an amazingly impressive dragon that actually breathes fire and smoke, which must have been some feat of engineering!

788px-Nibelungen_film1Ringside continues on Saturday 8th November with Brunch with the Brunnhildes: a brunch discussion with sopranos Susan Bullock and Catherine Foster who will discuss their experiences of performing in the Ring Cycle with Front Row‘s Matthew D’Ancona. For more information, click here.

Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen begins on Wednesday 5th November with Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold), and concludes on Sunday 9th November with Götterdämmerung (Ragnarök). For more information and to book, visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website.

Neil Brand photo by Tom Catchesides.