Irene Théorin as Brünnhilde © Palace of Arts
Irene Théorin as Brünnhilde
© Palace of Arts
A woman stands atop centre stage, a shock of silver hair above a scarlet ball gown draped to the floor. As flames burst out behind her, she sings of a peerless hero, of vile treachery, of the fate of the world, reaching into our innermost consciousness of stories heard since childhood. She sings with complete authority, shifting from the loudest of long-held high notes to a near whisper. In Brünnhilde’s immolation scene, Iréne Théorin is hobbling on stage with the help of stick, but we barely notice. She has us spellbound.

If Théorin amongst the flames is the image that stays in my head, the music I will remember is Siegfried’s funeral march. From the impact of those double drum beats at the start, Adam Fischer and MR Symphonics made the music swell and expand until it took over one’s senses. I needed the ensuing soft passage for my heart rate to recover.

Götterdämmerung defies any attempt at a comprehensive in-depth review: it’s so long, so many things happen, so many singers have so many different passages that a full list would run to thousands of words. So what follows is of necessity just a sample.

The opera starts with the three Norns spinning the rope of destiny, in a neat theatrical device for filling in the mythical background story. It’s also the opportunity for some very fine singing from Erika Gál, Judit Németh and Polina Pasztircsák (who later doubles as the Rhinemaiden Woglinde), with glorious vocal timbre from all three and phrasing that draws us into the action. The scene also sets the standard for an orchestral performance that is full of individual brilliance. The refrain sung as each sister throws the rope to the other is accompanied by woodwind quotes that are executed exquisitely. Later, when Hagen summons the Gibichung retainers, the bray of the brass is superb; a haunting trumpet call accompanies Alberich; Siegfried’s horn call is virtuosic; countless passages in the low strings show detail and a shimmering timbre.

Siegfried (Christian Franz) and Rhinemaidens © Palace of arts
Siegfried (Christian Franz) and Rhinemaidens
© Palace of arts
But this wasn’t merely a collection of virtuosic players. Throughout four and a half hours of music, Adam Fischer maintained shape and poise in every passage, giving the music space to breathe. In most performances of Götterdämmerung, one hears a section of music that doesn’t feel quite right – a tempo is too rushed or too leisurely, some instruments are out of balance, or accenting doesn’t quite bite. Not here: the orchestra was virtually flawless.

We expect the big scenes in this opera to impress: the summoning of the Gibichungs, Siegfried’s murder, the appearance of Alberich in Hagen’s dream. And impress they did, especially the confrontation when Brünnhilde recognises the Ring on Siegfried’s finger and realises her betrayal, and the subsequent superb trio between her, Hagen and Oskar Hilldebrandt’s Gunther. But what I found remarkable was the power of some scenes that I have previously regarded as mainly linkage. So Waltraute’s visit to Brünnhilde came across as a pivotal point in the action, Marina Prudenskaya lending it real impetus in spite of some strained high notes and thickly Russian-accented German. The Rhinemaidens’ scene with Christian Franz’s Siegfried provided another occasion for some superb ensemble singing, but after providing comic relief, it gained real pathos as Siegfried comes within a heartbeat of averting the tragedy by throwing the Ring into the Rhine.

Planning dark deeds: Erika Markovics as Gutrune, Kurt Rydl as Hagen, Oskar Hillebrandt as Gunther © Palace of arts
Planning dark deeds: Erika Markovics as Gutrune, Kurt Rydl as Hagen, Oskar Hillebrandt as Gunther
© Palace of arts
The production had some negatives. Kurt Rydl disappointed as Hagen, with fine acting but a tendency to bark and shout: only in one passage did I hear his full singing voice. Whether this was deliberate characterisation or whether his once great voice can no longer sustain the smoothness, I don’t know.

The other main negative was some injudicious use of video projection. While the technique worked perfectly well in many instances (most notably the Rhine scene and the final conflagration), Siegfried and Brünnhilde’s love scene was accompanied by a parallel scene of love and abandonment of a smart young woman in a modern penthouse, an exercise in reducing the sublime to the banal. The Gibichung scene was played to a severely high contrast monochrome backdrop of office workers seated or talking, moving occasionally, whose purpose was utterly opaque to me. One sequence here might have been brilliant – a projection of Erika Markovics as Gutrune zoomed in until her eyes take over the whole screen. But surely this was intended to accompany the point at which Siegfried drinks the love potion: it actually came a couple of dozen bars earlier.

For me, however, Götterdämmerung stands or falls on the opening scene, the closing scene, and the ability of the orchestra to maintain the continual forward drive between the two. In this production, both the opening scene and everything from Siegfried’s meeting with the Rhinemaidens to the end were spellbinding, and the orchestral performance kept me riveted throughout. In spite of some imperfections, this was an unforgettable performance.

You can read reviews from the other operas in the cycle here: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried.