You know that you are in for a non-conventional ending when there is a rubber boat with three Rhinemaidens in short dresses, rubber boots and parkas who join Siegfried in his Rhine Journey in Act 1 of Götterdämmerung. One of them carries a placard demanding “Rettet den Rhein (Save the Rhine)”. When the production premiered in 2012, the slogan might have been interpreted simply as a plea for environmental preservation. A mere four years later, with Europe and the world in political and economic turmoil, environmental destruction seems the least of our worries. The last of Frankfurt’s Ring in many ways foretold the near future and at the same time offers our best hope: understanding and tolerance.

Lance Ryan (Siegfried), Katharina Magiera, Britta Stallmeister, Jenny Carlstedt (Rhinemaidens) © Monika Rittershaus (2012)
Lance Ryan (Siegfried), Katharina Magiera, Britta Stallmeister, Jenny Carlstedt (Rhinemaidens)
© Monika Rittershaus (2012)

The opera began with a striking tableau. The curtain was up with the turntable set dimly lit in silver tone. As the music began, we saw the main characters of the previous three operas on stage: the Gods, the Rhinemaidens, the giants, and Alberich. The norns wove their red yarn of fate around the characters as they sang. The scene ended with Alberich cutting the rope with scissors.

The Gibichung Hall was a modern living room in the “basement” of the set, equipped with a bar. Gutrune was a modern girl who jogs while her two brothers plotted their scheme. Siegfried (disguised as Gunther) robbed Brünnhilde of the Ring in a more subtle and non-violent fashion with words and gestures.

Hagen’s horn call scene featured the male chorus dressed as police/security guards with bullet proof vest, some touting rifles. Their movement from the front of the turntable set initially to the rear as the main characters appeared was well choreographed and carefully rehearsed. The vengeance trio scene was cleverly moved down to the basement area to highlight the claustrophobic nature of their plan.

Lance Ryan (Siegfried) and Susan Bullock (Brünnhilde) © Monika Rittershaus
Lance Ryan (Siegfried) and Susan Bullock (Brünnhilde)
© Monika Rittershaus

The Rhinemaidens in their rubber boat reappeared to warn Siegfried in Act III, followed by his murder by Hagen on top of the Ring. Gunther alone remained on stage as Siegfried’s body moved down the ramp of the set before he was joined by Gutrune, then by Hagen and the men. Brünnhilde’s Immolation, as she disappeared below the center of the ring set, surrounded by men and women bearing small light, was followed by a surprise ending. The curtain was lowered, the auditorium was lit up, and Alberich in a gold suit, ran to the front of the audience demanding the return of the ring to the Gods positioned in the side box. This is the first time in my experience that Alberich and not his son Hagen had the last word of the opera, but somehow it was fitting that this central character was given the honor. Hagen’s fate remained unclear while (also the first) Gunther survived his conflict with Hagen. As the curtain opened one final time for the glorious orchestral conclusion, Brünnhilde was joined by nearly all other characters on stage, facing the audience, as if to say “ here is our story, now it is up to you to carry on”.

The musical quality of this Ring has steadily gained momentum, and the second and third acts of Götterdämmerung showed off the orchestra at its most glorious under the inspired command by Sebastian Weigle. The important brass and winds were excellent throughout, and the strings often made stirringly emotional contributions. Maestro Weigle was mindful of the needs of the singers, often lowering orchestral volume to accentuate soft passages. Orchestral transitions and passages, such as the dawn music and Siegfried’s funeral march, were majestic and memorable. The entire orchestra was on stage to take a final bow with singers, and received a deservedly loud ovation.

Claudia Mahnke, Meredith Arwady and Angel Blue (Norns) © Monika Ritterhaus (2012)
Claudia Mahnke, Meredith Arwady and Angel Blue (Norns)
© Monika Ritterhaus (2012)

Vincent Wolfsteiner’s Siegfried continued to be a delight, singing with a slightly covered but strong penetrating voice throughout. While he occasionally ducked high notes, this was an excellent performance of the punishing role, complete with his energetic and sympathetic acting. The tessitura of the Götterdämmerung Brünnhilde was a better fit for Rebecca Teem, whose middle and low notes were expressive and flexible, and she showed interesting color in voice as well as  good connection to the text.

It is not often to have a Gunther so vocally strong and assertive as Simon Bailey. Anna Gabler was also a confident Gutrune with elegance in voice and appearance. Falk Struckmann’s Hagen was growing in strength and menace, and he dealt with the challenge of the long and hard role with aplomb. Claudia Mahnke sang Waltraute with sympathy and passion, and was a member of the excellent trio of the norns, with Meredith Arwady and Lise Davidsen. The three Rhinemaidens – Jessica Strong, Jenny Carlstedt and Katharina Magiera – were all delightfully campy and chirpy. The male chorus did themselves proud in the horn call scene as well as in Act III.