The demise of gods in Valhalla was only suggested in the fiery red images projected on the screen in the back of stage, but the majestic orchestral performance during the final minutes of Staatsoper Berlin’s Götterdämmerung filled the lack of concrete visual images and more. Musical standards on the whole remained high with some minor vocal shortcomings, and made up for some unconvincing aspects of the production. The two lead singers were spectacular; Andreas Schager clearly established himself as one of the leading Siegfrieds of our time with his clarion tenor and strong stamina, while Iréne Theorin showed off her maturing portrayal of Brünnhilde with mixture of passion and tenderness.

The production continued to be dominated by projections on the screens in the back of the stage, and the colors and images were often arresting and effective. In the Norn scene, the ropes of fate were a series of thin red lines projected from above against dark background, and the back screens showed the slowly disintegrating images as the lines finally broke. As the Norns exited, Brünnhilde’s rock with the dormant Siegfried appeared from the back. The projections changed colors from red, green, gold and blue through the duet and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey. In Acts II and III, the projections showed faces in agony and crawling figures which did not seem consistent with the text, and became unnecessarily distracting. The production featured dancers again, dancing to the Rhine Journey music, and acting as Tarnhelm, and as Siegfried’s extension as they surrounded Brünnhilde to steal the Ring from her.

Gibichung Hall was represented by platforms of various heights in illuminated yellow windows which contained white mannequins. The platforms slid in and out of stage sideways to allow soloists and chorus members to enter and exit. During Hagen’s horn call and Brünnhilde’s Immolation, the tall platforms stood prominent center-stage, and were effective in showcasing the soloists. 

Among the supporting cast, Jochen Schmeckenbecker as Alberich and Ekaterina Gubanova (Waltraute and Second Norn) made strong contributions. Alberich was made up to appear as an old man to show the passage of time, and Schmeckenbecker was again arresting in his vocal and physical acting in his brief appearance. Gubanova’s voice rang out strongly in the Norn scene to provide a focus of the narrative, and her plea with Brünnhilde was heartfelt. Falk Struckmann was a somewhat frustrating Hagen as he had some wonderful soaring notes and musicality but lacked the gravitas of the dark bass needed for this role. Boaz Daniel was a well sung and acted Gunther, while Ann Petersen’s Gutrune, appropriately glamorous in stature and voice, seemed pressed in high notes.

There were many vocal highlights, including the love duet and the Waltraute scene in Act I, and the horn call chorus and the vengeance trio in Act II. However, at the end of the evening, two solo performances were seared in my memory for their power, intensity, and artistry. In Siegfried’s death scene, Schager outdid himself as he stood up to sing his homage to Brünnhilde. He smiled at the memory of their love, grieved for its loss and was finally reconciled to his fate, all while maintaining strong, lyrical singing which characterized his portrayal. He not only had the strength to cope with extended phrasing, but his voice never lost its clarity and brightness. It was an astonishingly heroic performance.

Iréne Theorin began the Immolation scene with restrained calm, and her lament for Siegfried and subsequent narration of events as she finally understood them were masterful in their profound insights and deep sadness. Her “Ruhe, ruhe, du Gott!” was almost a whisper, and we could imagine Wotan receiving her message with a mixture of sadness and relief. Her singing then began to gather more strength and momentum, and she sang her final farewell to the world with full voice that retained its brilliant warmth with an exciting edge.  

Daniel Barenboim’s reading of the score was at times unconventional. He began the opera with loud volume and brassy emphasis. While he was mindful of the singers, he conducted some music very slowly, such as the Gibichung Hall scene and Hagen’s encounter with Alberich, to good effect, and often hurried the tempo later on to convey the sense of urgency and drama. The low strings and brass were especially impressive, underlying the Shakespearian tragedy of the opera. At the very end, Barenboim did not pause the orchestra as the music transitioned from the fall of gods to the final theme of “redemption,” but with some low rolling of drums the strings played the final notes of hope and salvation. The audience maintained a long respectful silence before enthusiastic ovations.