Wagner Notes

[The following review is excerpted from the April 2017 issue of Wagner Notes, the bimonthly publication of the Wagner Society of New York; it is sent free of charge to all Society members. ©2017. All rights reserved.]

Toronto’s Modern Industrial Götterdämmerung
. Principals: L. Ammann, K. Cargill, I. Montalbetti, C. Goerke, A. Schager, M. Gantner, A. Anger, R. Pomakov, D. Lorèn, L. Eberwein, men of the Canadian Opera Company chorus. Canadian Opera Company Orchestra: J. Debus, cond.; T. Albery, dir.; M. Levine, set and costume design; D. Finn, lighting; P. Powell, choreographer; S. Horst, chorus master. Performance of Feb. 17, 2017

Brünnhilde (Christine Goerke) contemplates the heroic deeds ofSiegfried (Andreas Schager)
as she bids him a loving farewell before he setsout from their home in search of adventure.
Prologue of
Götterdämmerung, Canadian Opera Company, 2017. Photo: Michael Cooper.

Götterdämmerung begins with the glorious music of Brünnhilde’s awakening from the final act of Siegfried, but when the curtain opens in the Canadian Opera Company’s production, one feels as if an age has passed since the events of the previous opera. From the ruins of the imperialistic 19th-century setting of Atom Egoyan’s Die Walküre through the mind-forest of François Girard’s Siegfried, we enter Tim Albery’s stark milieu of the Gibichungs. Here, there is nothing left of the natural world, it having been transformed by industrial development. The Norns weave their rope of destiny under a criss-crossing mass of power lines; Siegfried encounters the Rhinemaidens in what looks more like a landfill site than the wild woodland Wagner originally envisioned; and the Gibichungs work and live in a corporate office building or compound, dressed in office-drone uniforms of grey or black suits and shift dresses. The sterile atmosphere is an apt metaphor for Gunther and Gutrune’s predicament—they are having trouble finding mates with whom they can secure their family empire. What they cannot do naturally, they—under Hagen’s advice—try to accomplish through deceit and force. And of course Hagen only helps them because he sees in it the opportunity to get his hands on the ring and seize power for himself.

Albery’s setting, though modern, succeeds because it provides a meaningful context in which the tragedy of the opera plays out. It especially throws into high relief how alien Siegfried and Brünnhilde are in the Gibichungs’ world; they seem to be of another place and time, and their naivete and inexperience make the consequences of their actions seem particularly tragic. Andreas Schager, who was making his COC debut, gave us an energetic Siegfried that highlighted the character’s guilelessness in the face of the wily Gibichungs. His voice rang out with heroic abandon and fearlessness, though at times it verged on shouting. In many ways, Schager is what you want a Siegfried to be. Although one may have wished at times for more nuance, I was intrigued by his perennially youthful Siegfried—fearless, yes, but in a dangerous and unpredictable way

Opposite Schager, Christine Goerke was truly impressive as Brünnhilde, a tour de force of singing and acting. She makes the Valkyrie’s humanity the core of her portrayal, and one empathizes with Brünnhilde’s vulnerability, struggle, and confusion, especially in response to Siegfried’s betrayal. But before this happens, there was the riveting scene between her and Waltraute, excellently sung by Karen Cargill. From the start, you sense their disconnection—Waltraute is shocked, even repulsed by the domesticized situation in which her sister now lives. At the climax, when Brünnhilde declares that she will not give up the ring (underscored by the dramatic climax on the musical motive representing Alberich’s renunciation of love in Das Rheingold), it was agonizing to witness how she too had become enthralled to the ring. When at last she achieves the wisdom and perspective to accomplish the task of returning the ring to the Rhine, thus ending the reign of the gods, the sincerity and nobility of her sacrifice is deeply poignant. In her final solo before the immolation, Goerke was glorious.

The rest of the cast was superb—a true ensemble. Estonian bass Ain Anger, also making his COC debut, gave a memorable performance as Hagen. His monologue (“Hier sitz’ ich zur Wacht“) was engrossing, evil lacing every clearly enunciated word. Later, his scene with the creepy Robert Pomakov as the dwarf Alberich was chilling. Martin Gantner and Ileana Montalbetti gave sympathetic interpretations as the hapless siblings. The Gibichung vassals, consisting of the 40 men of the COC chorus, were an especially powerful force on stage. Attired in suits and wielding silver double-pointed spears, they exemplified conformity to Gibichung corporate culture. As the last bearers of wisdom (and representatives of the natural world that has virtually disappeared in Albery’s production), the Norns (Lindsay Ammann, Karen Cargill, and Ileana Montalbetti) gave a solemn foretelling of events in the Prologue, while the Rhinemaidens (Danika Lorèn, Lauren Eberwein, Lindsay Ammann) flirted and cajoled Siegfried through no less than three costume changes.

Johannes Debus conducted the orchestra with a real sensitivity to the flow of the drama. The pacing seemed natural, never rushed or too slow. The ensemble’s performance was quite good in general though unfortunately marred throughout by poor intonation in the brass and woodwinds (except the clarinets, which were particularly excellent). The strings could have been more sumptuous, to balance out  the brass, which tended to overwhelm. I would have liked more shape and drama in the orchestra-only moments, such as Siegfried’s Rhine Journey and Siegfried’s Funeral March, when there was no action on stage. Here are opportunities for the orchestra to really carry the story, but it seemed they almost shied away from this role.

Ultimately, this revival production was remarkably cohesive, and David Finn’s intelligent lighting design is worth mentioning. In Albery’s dark world, natural light seems to no longer exist; the scenes which Wagner had indicated to be in broad daylight feature only artificial sources of light—lamps, spotlights, the glows of computer screens, the glare of fluorescent ceiling lamps. It really is a world in decline, in its twilight, so to speak. Not until the very end, after the conflagration of the gods (for which the audience was bathed in red light), do we turn our eyes to the back of the stage, and with the glorious music at the end, we finally see light that suggests a real dawn, a new beginning for the world.

Hannah Chan-Hartley      

Hannah Chan-Hartley is the Managing Editor and Musicologist of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.


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