This production of Götterdämmerung – the last opera in Wagner’s epic four-work Ring cycle directed by Frank Castorf – first saw the light of day in 2013 in celebration of the bicentenary of the composer’s birth. It still packs a punch or two and raises a ‘boo’ at the same time but it leaves a lot to the imagination and as Wagner exclaimed: imagination creates reality! It certainly does!
Overall, the visual impact is impressive and no more so than the sets that Serbian artist, Aleksandar Denić, came up with especially for the last act dominated by the neo-classical façade of the New York Stock Exchange. Adorned by half-a-dozen fluted Corinthian columns, funnily enough it complements extremely well the neo-classical interior of Bayreuth’s iconic Festspielhaus.
Spectacular lighting by Rainer Casper also give a lift to the overall stage picture with scenes changing from 2D to 3D and from one colour to another while video cameras capture the interior of the sets in minute detail.
Castorf’s unconventional to the core and in this respect it kept the production lively, interesting and on the go to the very end. For instance, we had Siegfried pinning Gutrune to the wall in a fit of passion, the Norns (daughters of Erda) practising voodoo and witchcraft and five mean-looking crocodiles crawling about Alexanderplatz bringing the jungle to the city routing for their fair share of the spoils during Siegfried and Brünnhilde’s big number ‘Heil dir, Sonne! Heil dir, Licht!’
In the last act, Gunther and Hagen are seen making a livingrunning a Döner kebab stall in a run-down area near Alexanderplatz with Gutrune carrying out Hagen’s bidding at whim. A set of oil-drums freely stand by a chemical plant. Would they ignite to engulf Valhalla in flames? Would the NYSE go up in smoke? These two questions kept ringing in my ears. Alas, nothing like this really happens, even though Brünnhilde rages all over the show fiercely dousing gasoline everywhere giving one hope of a grand and pyrotechnical climax.
In the end, the Gods and their beloved Valhalla hit the buffers rather quietly. Wagner’s music radiates round the vastness of the Graeco-Roman-designed Festspielhaus in a haunting and spiritual way while the Rhinemaidens shadow Brünnhilde every inch of the way to retrieve the ring while Hagen – sung so meanly by Stephen Milling who chills the air just by his presence let alone by his actions – stare longingly into a raging-burning brazier knowing that the game’s up.
But the game’s not up for Catherine Foster, the first English-born soprano to sing Brünnhilde at Bayreuth. She’s brilliant! A true Wagnerian! Her voice is so unrestrained and lyrical especially in the top register and, of course, ideal for Wagner.
The well-loved and moving scene where Waltraute (Marina Prudenskaya) comes to warn Brünnhilde to return the ring to the Rhinemaidens to end the dreaded curse of the ring – one of the loveliest passages in the opera – is passionately sung by Ms Prudenskaya while Markus Eiche and Allison Oakes made a brilliant team in the brother-sister roles of Gunther and Gutrune.
In the pit, Marek Janowski conjures up some exciting playing with the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and when Maestro Janowski took his curtain-call with the full complement of players gathered round him, the audience roared giving them a wild reception that said it all.