Götterdämmerung – the last opera in Wagner’s Ring cycle directed by Frank Castorf in celebration of the bicentenary of the composer’s birth in 2013 – is dominated in the final scene by the New York Stock Exchange whose neo-classical façade, adorned by a half-dozen fluted Corinthian columns, complements extremely well the neo-classical interior of Bayreuth’s Festspielhaus.
Serbian-born artist, Aleksandar Denić, produced a host of stunning sets for the four operas of the Ring built on a massive revolving stage but what he came up with for Götterdämmerung is quite staggering.
A Döner kebab shop fills a wedge of waste land behind an old run-down tenement block sharing the stage with the NYSE while a doorway shelters a homeless couple and a set of large oil-barrels freely stands by a chemical plant nearby. Would they ignite to engulf Valhalla in flames? Would the NYSE go up in smoke? These two questions kept ringing in my head.
Alas, nothing like this really happens, even though Brünnhilde rages round the stage fiercely dousing gasoline all over the place 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 radiated round the vastness of the Graeco-Roman-designed Festspielhaus in a haunting and spiritual way while the Rhinemaidens shadow Brünnhilde to get back the ring and Hagen’s seen staring longingly into a raging-burning brazier knowing that the game’s up.
The singing, however, is exceptional and Claudia Mahnke (Waltraute) – also Second Norn with Anna Lapkovskaja and Christiane Kohl – is simply a joy to listen to and perfect for the roles she played. As for Catherine Foster as Brünnhilde, she’s a force to be reckoned with. Her voice is so unrestrained and hovers like a dove in flight especially in the top register.
The well-loved scene where Waltraute comes to warn Brünnhilde to return the Ring to the Rhinemaidens to end the dreaded curse is brilliantly executed and passionately sung by Ms Mahnke while Alejandro Marco-Buhrmester and Allison Oakes work well together as Gunther and Gutrune feeling the heat and the brute-force of Hagen so menacingly sung by Stephen Milling who chills the air just by his presence let alone his actions.
Full marks go to Kirill Petrenko for such outstanding work in the pit with the Bayreuth Orchestra hand-picked from some of the finest musicians to be found in Germany. They played brilliantly offering a grand rendering of Siegfried’s Rhine Journey and Funeral March. And when Maestro Petrenko took his final curtain with all his players gathered round him on stage, the audience ignited and boiled over stamping their seal of approval on one of the hottest nights of the year with temperatures touching 40 degrees C.
If the game’s up for Hagen, it’s not up for Castorf! His Ring still packs a punch or two and raises a ‘boo’ at the same time and leaves a lot to the imagination. But as Wagner exclaimed: imagination creates reality! Indeed, it does!