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Blu-ray Review

Richard Wagner

Die Götterdämmerung

  • Siegfried - Lance Ryan
  • Gunther - Gerd Grochowski
  • Alberich - Johannes Martin Kränzle
  • Hagen - Mikhail Petrenko
  • Brünnhilde - Iréne Theorin
  • Gutrune / Die dritte Norn - Anna Samuil
  • Waltraute / Die zweite Norn - Waltraud Meier
  • Die erste Norn - Margarita Nekrasova
  • Woglinde - Aga Mikolaj
  • Wellgunde - Maria Gortsevskaya
  • Flosshilde - Anna Lapkovskaja
Milan La Scala Chorus & Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim
Chorus master: Bruno Casoni
Guy Cassiers, stage director & set designer
Enrico Bagnoli, set and lighting designer
Tim van Steenbergen, costume designer
Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, choreographer
Recorded live at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, June 2013
Arthaus Musik Blu-ray 108093 292m LPCM Stereo DTS-HD Master Audio
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon JapanOrder Now from ArkivMusic.comFind it at CD Universe Find it at JPC
Also available on 2DVDs 101696: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe - JPC

This release brings to an end the La Scala Ring Cycle conducted by Daniel Barenboim and produced by Guy Cassiers. I reviewed the Die Walküre very positively when it came out. This performance is significantly less successful to my mind, largely due to the weak singing of Lance Ryan, but it is very fine nonetheless. I will stick with my earlier judgment that Barenboim's 1992 Bayreuth Ring Cycle remains his best effort (but for a different view see the reviews by Rob Cummings on this site), but the conducting, production, and most of the singing here is first rate.

One very striking feature of Guy Cassier's production is the skillful use of light and video – superbly captured on the Blu-ray disc. I don't think I've ever seen a more evocative portrayal of Brunnhilde's rock. But the most distinctive feature of the production is its use of visual leitmotifs that reappear throughout all four dramas. Chief among these is the frieze Les passions humaines commissioned from the Antwerp sculptor Jef Lambeaux by King Leopold II of Belgium. The frieze depicts a contorted mass of human bodies – rather appropriate for the Ring. There is a striking evocation of the frieze in the Gibichung palace where pieces of the furniture look rather like Damien Hirst-style limbs in formaldehyde. The leitmotif continues with the depiction of the Tarnhelm as a human sculpture, which works rather effectively when Siegfried arrives at Brünnhilde's rock (and somewhat less so when Siegfried first arrives surrounded by ballet dancers at the Gibichung palace).

As with the earlier dramas in the cycle, Barenboim's conducting is superlative. Die Götterdämmerung has some of Wagner's classic set-pieces, including Siegfried's Rhine Journey and the Funeral March and these come across extremely well, as one might expect. Barenboim's real strength, though, is his sense of structure – both musical and dramatic. A nice illustration comes in Act II, where he builds unerringly to the dramatic high point of Siegfried's oath. This is a part of the drama that is crucial, but can sag in the wrong hands.

As indicated earlier, the real problem with this production is Lance Ryan's Siegfried. Ryan does not have the controlled power of a true heldentenor and he sounds forced and all-too-often wobbly when he tries to project. He is very much at the "shouty" end of the spectrum and it just doesn't work for me at all (although the audience at La Scala seemed happy enough). The rest of the cast unfortunately shows up his weaknesses.

Waltraud Meier is outstanding as the 2nd Norn and then as Waltraute. The duet between Brünnhilde and Waltraute at the end of Act I is sung with simultaneous strength and delicacy. Nina Stemme was the Brünnhilde in Die Walküre and Siegfried, and sang outstandingly well in both dramas. Here she is replaced by Iréne Theorin, who does not quite have Stemme's dramatic power, but who gives a very creditable performance. Theorin is a wonderfully furious Brünnhilde in Act II, but by the time of the immolation she is a little lacking in dramatic contrast. Hagen is well sung by Mikhail Petrenko, despite some unfortunate portamento in the early stages of the role. Johannes Martin Kränzle continues his strong run as Alberich (with the Alberich-Hagen duet another high superbly conducted high point of the performance). The principals are rounded out by Gerd Grochowski as Gunther and Anna Samuil as Gutrune. Both do their roles justice.

The audiovisual quality of the Blu-ray disc is outstanding and the performance is recommended for the production, the conducting, and much of the singing. There are enough great moments for this to be compulsory viewing for dedicated Wagnerians.

Copyright © 2014, José Luis Bermúdez