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Wendy Bryn Harmer (Gutrune) gives
Jay Hunter Morris (Siegfried) that
magically “spiked” beverage.
by Garry Thomas Morse
On February 11, 2012, a rather lugubrious Saturday morning in Vancouver, I was quite delighted to stroll over to the Park Theatre on Cambie Street and to find myself swiftly transported into the beautifully ominous world of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, via a live six hour HD broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, replete with half-time flavour interviews with many of the stars.
The fourth and final installment of Wagner’s “Ring” Cycle, Götterdämmerung, is the culmination of the other parts, in which the brawny but none too brainy Germanic hero Siegfried must attempt to negotiate his way through the world of mortals without any additional guidance from the gods, who have fallen victim to the curse of the titular ring.
Strangely, in this century of globalized sweatshops and rampant economic crises, the themes in this opera are even more timely, as the musical drama revolves around the renunciation of emotion in favour of mineral extraction, which is the inception of the curse that enslaves others. The luxurious wealth of the powers-that-be come at the price of many labourers, and this leads to a kind of Freudian psychosis among the gods. Even the security of their dream home Valhalla has been established upon the mythical equivalent of subprime lending.
Three Norns, about to lose their livelihood.
Aided wonderfully by the set design, courtesy of Robert Lepage and his production company Ex Machina, in addition to the impression that the Norns (based on the Norse Fates) had lost their job, there was definitely a corporate atmosphere to the world of the Gibichungs (subtly portrayed by Iain Paterson as Gunther and Wendy Bryn Harmer as Gutrune), who agree to rather unsavoury outsourcing tactics in order to get mail-order spouses, involving shadowy disguises, marital swapping, and various kinds of enchanted date-drugs.
Also, during an intermission of this operatic “superbowl”, with Québécois panache, our very own Lepage was not shy about pointing out to the audience that the story reflected the vanity of our own times.
It is hard to accurately judge the singing during a live broadcast outside of the opera house, so it will suffice to say that the singers acquitted themselves wonderfully, and that in the scope of the reality-show style camera pans, in the dramatic sense, they were exceptional. The score was also conducted at a lively and refreshing pace by Fabio Luisi.
Tenor Jay Hunter Morris was highly refreshing in his antics as Siegfried, at times giving the impression of a slightly washed-out surfer dude/hero, and the other performers were most expressive, particularly the Rhinemaidens (played by Tamara Mumford, Jennifer Johnson Cano, and Erin Morley) in outfits that appeared to have come out of the musical Chicago, if not Liza Minelli’s wardrobe —“clingy” sinuous attire that enabled them to continually slide down the visual waterfall in mid-song.
Bass-baritone Eric Owens as Alberich and mezzo-soprano Waltraud Meier also were highly memorable in brief appearances, particularly when Waltraud Meier’s destined namesake Waltraute warns Brünnhilde of the dangers of having forgotten her Valkyrie duties in order to become a lovesick housefrau.
Hans-Peter König (Hagen) rouses the chorus to action.
However, it was clear that vocally and dramatically, the stage belonged to stentorian bass Hans-Peter König as the tormented villain Hagen and soprano Deborah Voigt as the tragic Brünnhilde, the only characters to retain a glimmer of their antecedent supernatural glory, and really, the only adults in the fourth part, behaving with stately decorum in a world of “crazyass” dissonant horns and hysterical maturiteens pursuing their next excess in madcap fashion.
Deborah Voigt (Brünnhilde) laments the death of Siegfried.
While Lepage’s production has garnered much controversy, it is to his credit that his minimalist design in Götterdämmerung really works in an insightful metaphorical way. The rotating keys, or bars, remind one of the musical structure of the “Ring” Cycle, which is to say the imagery that rises up out of the elemental upon the score, becoming at times the undulating waves of the Rhinemaidens or the flickering flames of the god Loge, just as the set design helps to communicate that the characters and their actions can never quite escape the inherent structure of their origins, or the promise of destruction and renewal that hides within.
Maybe the worst hunting trip, before or after Deliverance.
More information about Robert Lepage’s various productions can be found
in EX MACHINA: Creating for the Stage, now available from Talonbooks.
All images are courtesy of Minnesota Public Radio.