The word Götterdämmerung contextually translated becomes “twilight of the gods”, and Thursday night’s story was indeed full of endings: the conclusion of the saga of the ring and the end of several lives, human and god alike.

Iain Paterson as Gunther and Hans-Peter König as Hagen © Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
Iain Paterson as Gunther and Hans-Peter König as Hagen
© Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

The opera opened with the three Norns singing and spinning the rope of Destiny out of several thick lengths hanging from director Lepage’s famous massive planks, which created a huge, branch-like structure above their heads. In lamenting tones the three women sang of the coming fall of the gods, and the death of the Welt-Esche (“world ash tree”), until the climax of the scene when the planks abruptly began rotating on their axis, snapping off the ropes and bringing the “branches” tumbling down.

The image of taut ropes stuck with me as I listened to the Met orchestra; it seemed as if conductor Fabio Luisi was pulling Wagner’s larger-than-life music from the group with invisible cables. Overall the orchestra thrived and thrilled in the big moments (with only a few little flubs from the horn section), moving and breathing together as one unit, while the more subdued moments often fell a little flat.

Exit the Norns as the oft-reviled “machine”, which for me provided a satisfyingly grandiose visual counterpart to Wagner’s score, performs an intricate dance before the planks eventually settle into a half-circle, depicting a mountain top encircled by fire (with the help of computerized projections). Enter the two lovers at the center of this story: Brünnhilde (Katarina Dalayman) and Siegfried (Jay Hunter Morris). While both singers displayed superb voices and musicianship throughout the night, Morris was the superior actor, portraying Siegfried as a sympathetic character reminiscent of Thor in the recent Marvel movie franchise: happy, strapping, courageous to a fault, easily tricked, and, of course, a favorite with the ladies.

Dalayman’s and Morris’ declarations of love were passionate and believable, key to successfully eliciting the drama and intrigue of the subsequent scenes. Staged particularly well was Act II, in which the miserable Brünnhilde is brought to Gibichung Hall as the unwilling wife of Gunther, not knowing that her hoodwinked husband is betrothed to Gunther’s sister, Gutrune. As Siegfried walked onto the stage, the unwitting Brünnhilde’s back to the crowd, the phrase popped into my head (pantomime-style) “he’s behind you!”

The scheming Hagen was played almost too sympathetically by Hans-Peter König, whose rich, full voice was one of the most memorable of the night. Chills went through me when König called the vassals together and the men’s chorus began to sing; I temporarily forgot that Gunther, compellingly performed by Iain Paterson, had ordered Hagen to call the vassals to attend a wedding, and like the men I initially interpreted Hagen’s summons as a call to arms.

The penultimate scene was an excellent mix of humor and gravitas, the Rhinemaidens scurrying up the planks (now a stream) and sliding down again with an arm lifted in the air in a charming manner. The maidens’ costumes were some of the few that stood out, looking like a cross between a scaly fish and a Betsy Johnson creation, and their fluid movements were well coordinated. Joined by the rest of the hunting party as the maidens swim away, Siegfried’s herbal-tea-induced realization that he has been hoodwinked (and in turn has hoodwinked the woman he loves) was truly devastating.

The final scene was somewhat uneven, primarily due to the decidedly underwhelming staging of the immolation scene, which left all the dramatic interest resting on the singers’ shoulders. Luckily, Dalayman was up to the task, and Brünnhilde’s final moments were simultaneously tragic and triumphant.