Many of the singing actors in this production are not merely great vocalists, endowed with a deep understanding of Wagnerian style, they also display super-human qualities of strength an endurance. (In another opera, such performances might come across as excessive or self-indulgent – but Götterdämmerung is not another opera.)
Of course, a presence like Goerke’s needs to be matched by other powerhouse voices, or a very unbalanced performance would ensue. And the COC found two equally intense male voices in tenor Andreas Schager as Siegfried and bass Ain Anger as Hagen (both in their company debuts). Every note Schager sang rang with heroic brilliance and energy. As for Anger, I’m sure I’m not the first to point out that he is well named for the role of Hagen, as a seething anger – at times overt, at times submerged – permeated his performance from beginning to end. And when he gets really angry, he becomes a force of nature, capable of overpowering the COC Chorus and the 100-plus players in the COC Orchestra.
And I have only praise for everyone else in the cast. As Gunther, Martin Gantner wasn’t quite as imposing as his half-brother Hagen (that was the whole point of his role), but he possesses a rich, dark baritone voice. Robert Pomakov was so convincing, both vocally and dramatically, as a menacing Alberich that I wished Wagner had written a bigger role for him in this opera. The Norns were suitably weird and spooky, and soprano Aviva Fortunata did a commendable job of stepping in as Gutrune / the Third Norn.
As for the staging, scenery and costumes, the production is a remount from the COC’s 2006 Ring cycle – although I do believe that director Tim Albery changed a few things. Michael Levine’s sets and costumes place the opera in the context of the contemporary business world (more or less) and portrays the Gibichungs’ machinations as an aggressive corporate merger, or perhaps a hostile takeover.
Both Albery and Levine share a penchant for stagings that are sparse – yet a kind of sparseness that draws attention to detail. I found myself noticing a lot of clever touches: the blood-red computer monitors, steel spears that looked like surgical instruments, the decision to seat Hagen in a black chair when everyone else was sitting on red chairs, the way Brünnhilde drops her bouquet of flowers at the end of Act II, and the “Esther Williams” synchronized swimming motions of the Rhein Maidens – which added a welcome touch of humour to the production.
Down in the pit, Johannes Debus displayed mastery of the daunting task before him. Under his baton, the COC Orchestra’s players dug into Wagner’s score like it was a ten-course meal, and they hadn’t eaten for three days. Everyone played splendidly – but I must particularly commend principal hornist Mikhailo Babiak, and the other horn players in the orchestra.
© Colin Eatock 2017