Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Again for the record, here is the team (3 July 2009):

Conductor Sir Simon Rattle

Stage director and stage design Stéphane Braunschweig

Costumes Thibault Vancraenenbroeck

Lighting Marion Hewlett

Siegfried Ben Heppner

Gunther Gerd Grochowski

Hagen Mikhail Petrenko

Alberich Dale Duesing

Brünnhilde Katarina Dalayman

Gutrune Emma Vetter

Waltraude Anne Sofie von Otter

Norm 1 Maria Radner

Norm 2 Lilli Paasikivi

Norm 3 Miranda Keys

Woglinde Anna Siminska

Wellgunde Eva Vogel

Flosshilde Maria Radner

Choeur Rundfunkchor Berlin / Choeur de la Radio de Berlin

Chef de choeur Simon Halsey

Orchestre Berliner Philharmoniker

The staging continued Stéphane Braunschweig's quasi minimalist approach, using a closed cell like box with a high inaccessible window (sometimes we're within it, sometimes without) for Brunnhilde's isolation, other times the stage wide open, beautifully lit, with a rising and falling staircase to nowhere coming and going, sometimes waves, sometimes Valhalla, the end never in sight. Moments seemed reminiscent of the Patrice Chéreau Ring - the slow descent of the black scrim after Siegfried's murder, the large motionless crowd of men and women peering silently into the future. Some of the final video effects were stunningly beautiful (the Rhinemaidens and Siegfried) and others rather coarse (fire on, fire off, water on). 

I felt that we were delivered an extremely muscular, masculine androgenic work, driven by a forceful very forward paced muscial direction from Sir Simon Rattle, with the Berlin Philharmonic unleashing a huge sound into a relatively small theatre, the brass, percussion and basses dominating the evening, at least from where we sat some two thirds of the way back in the main auditorium. It was a work of brutality as men dominated and abused anyone in their way, the women of the world, to satisfy their own needs at the expense of all existence. We saw an intense psychosexual drama of devastating consequence. Where I had expected, or rather hoped, that lyric beauty would finally take hold with a promise of reason as salvation, I didn't hear much, if any, of it, and that would be my only criticism. I remained, I'm afraid, pessimistic at the end, and while that may be the truth of the matter, I'm not sure that it is what Wagner intended.

Again, the orchestra took the honours. As the house lights dimmed and Rattle returned to the pit for Act 2, there was loud acclaim from the house, and whether by error or intent, the lights went up again, and the audience started to rise to their feet only to have the lights quickly dimmed again, as if to settle things down. There was tension in the air. The final curtain calls did not see a standing ovation again till Rattle came on stage and acknowledged his players, again a roar and by now 1500 people were on their feet. What I remember most apart from the sheer depth of the sound is the detail. The exchange between a betrayed and wild, almost animal Brunhilde and the brass, in a savage interplay between words and emotion, said it all.

Whereas Ben Heppner had assumed a youthful air in last year's Siegfried despite his physique, here he looked even larger and more awkward, and up against the blanket of sound rather than riding it. He was however especially affecting as Siegfried as Gunter, his bulk and demeanour used to sinister advantage as he slowly came up to the sleeping Brunnhilde with a menace and dominance that spoke of rape. After their bitter exchange, with one arm he slowly turned her over, now face up, legs apart. It was chilling. The sexuality of male dominance was to continue to the end. The voice sounds more frayed than last year but the lovely bell tone is there when he finds it. He watches the conductor very closely.

Katarina Dalayman was an angry betrayed woman, now way beyond her heritage, and in a nearly showstopping trio, outsang the baritones and the orchestra as she joined the brotherhood of vengence. The three were front stage and we were pinned to our seats. It is the memory I'll carry most. Against an ardent if not deeply wise Waltraute of Anne Sofie van Otter, she had rejected the sisterhood and began her, and our demise. Her final great scene was less declamatory and more a personal account of herself and her dead beloved, sung either by intent or necessity, in almost half voice. In served to intensify the humanity of all this even more.

The Russian Mikhail Petrenko's Hagen was a cold voiced and ruthlessly cruel Hagen, in the manner of his Walkure Hunding, with Gerd Grochowski and Emma Vetter his hapless pawns.

The men of the Choir of the Berlin Radio added even more male menace. I was struck more than ever, if you haven't already gathered, not so much by a work of salvation by female love than the sheer destructive power of the male ego.

The final apperance of Wotan as Wanderer irritated me as an unnecessary unwritten overstatement. That said, I liked the appearance of Erda with tree sapling at the end of Elke Neidhardt's Adelaide Ring, so I can't claim impurity to the masters stage directions as the cause. But one more male was one too many. Give women the keys.