Wagner famously idealized the concept of the “Gesamtkunstwerk”, a total work of art that incorporates many artistic media into a single piece. He would have appreciated Seattle Opera’s production of Götterdämmerung. Wagner’s finest music, skilled conducting and playing, beautiful voices, nuanced acting, a staging that is sensitive to the score, breathtaking sets and costumes, thoughtful use of technology – all of these combined to make this production the perfect realization of Wagner’s dream.

Jennifer Zetlan (Woglinde), Cecelia Hall (Wellgunde), Renée Tatum (Flosshilde) and Stefan Vinke (Si © Elise Bakketun
Jennifer Zetlan (Woglinde), Cecelia Hall (Wellgunde), Renée Tatum (Flosshilde) and Stefan Vinke (Si
© Elise Bakketun

Occasional missteps notwithstanding, Asher Fisch led the Seattle Opera Orchestra in their best playing this cycle. The pacing was spot-on and perfectly coordinated with what happened on stage (both the singers’ actions and the quick set changes). The hesitation I had noticed in earlier performances was replaced by electrifying energy. The orchestra’s enthusiasm was contagious; both the audience and singers seemed to feel and share it.

Lori Phillips sang Brünnhilde again, as Alwyn Mellor was still ill. Her tone was beautiful despite some struggles in her middle range during the immolation scene. She seemed more comfortable acting than she had in Siegfried, though she still had moments where she seemed out of character and focused on the music. She also had good chemistry with Stefan Vinke’s Siegfried. Mr Vinke’s voice was again inconsistent, at times ringing and pure but at times underwhelming. His acting was excellent: He dealt with Siegfried’s magic-induced memory issues well and generally played his part with captivating exuberance.

The unlikable Gibich family was full of talented singer-actors. Wendy Bryn Harmer’s sympathetic Gutrune kept up her vocal and theatrical energy over the course of a spread-out role. Her guilt and doubt about the choice to give Siegfried the potion was touching, as was her suicide (though it was awkwardly staged). As Gunther, Markus Brück epitomized an insecure monarch. As Donner in Das Rheingold, Brück had a commanding presence; here he showed he could also convincingly play a weak-willed mortal. The force behind the Gibich family’s plots in the opera is Hagen, and Daniel Sumegi as this character was a thoroughly nasty piece of work who sought power but also delighted in ruining lives along the way. His voice had a drone-like quality that I found unpleasant, but also very dramatically suitable. His conversation with Alberich (Richard Paul Fink, who sang and acted flawlessly as usual) was staged as a dream scene (including some nice sleight of hand with relevant props), which worked quite well with the text, especially Alberich’s repeated question, “Schläfst du, Hagen, mein Sohn?” (“Are you sleeping, Hagen, my son?”).

The two female trios (Norns and Rhinemaidens) also turned in wonderful performances. These Norns (Luretta Bybee, Stephanie Blythe, and Margaret Jane Wray) were young women rather than crones, and they each had beautiful, distinctively textured voices. I often find the prologue boring, but they kept me engrossed. As the playful Rhinemaidens, Jennifer Zetlan, Cecelia Hall, and Renée Tatum offered both welcome comic relief and gorgeous singing.

The sets have been a star of this Ring cycle, and Götterdämmerung’s did not disappoint. Many were reused from prior operas in the cycle, which allowed for nice staging parallels: Siegfried, for instance, was stabbed on the same rock as Siegmund. The Gibich family hall was a new and impressive sight. Its intricate wood carvings tell the story of Siegfried and the dragon. (The result is gorgeous, though one wonders why what looks like an old, ancestral hall pays homage to such recent events.) The costumes contributed to the sumptuous look of the production as well. The regal patterned purples of the Gibich family were especially striking.

While discussing the technical elements of the production, it would be remiss not to mention director Stephen Wadsworth’s staging of the immolation scene. This film-like montage wrapped up all the loose ends: after Grane (a real horse) was led offstage, projected flames grew but were soon replaced by the aquamarine of the Rhine’s waters. In the river, Hagen pleaded for the ring with a laughing Brünnhilde. She instead tossed it to the Rhinemaidens (who swam by on flying rigs), and a desperate Hagen drowned in the river. As the water faded, a platform emerged from the ground with all of the gods. Wotan and Fricka kissed passionately, and Loge’s fire engulfed the platform as it sank back into the ground. With the final notes of the opera sounding, the lights came up on stage once more to reveal the same forest set from the beginning of Das Rheingold, with new trees sprouting from a nurse log. The end of the world also redeemed it and enabled new growth.

This extraordinary performance marked the end of Seattle Opera’s first 2013 Ring cycle as well as the end of Speight Jenkins’ time as general director of Seattle Opera. Let us hope that these endings also lead to further growth.

*****