Götterdämmerung in Leipzig

With Götterdämmerung, the Leipzig Ring came to an end, and it is time to reflect not only on this performance but also on the cycle as a whole. As regards Ulf Schirmer and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, there is not much to add to my report on Siegfried. The Journey to the Rhine was spacious and the Funeral March overwhelming, but it was again the smaller details and poignant phrasing which grabbed one’s attention.

Rosamund Gilmore’s production, together with Carl Friedrich Oberle’s sets and Nicola Reichert’s costumes, remained faithful to the work and coherent in conception: a strong narrative content, employing dancers with symbolic features to underpin the work’s fundamental themes. True, in the Second Act of Götterdämmerung, Gilmore largely abjured these special effects, concentrating on the interaction of the principal characters in front of the assembled vassals, but this was surely because Wagner, at this point, seems to depart from his overall schema for the Ring to indulge in conventional nineteenth century grand opera. And holding back on an innovative dimension at this earlier stage lent greater force to the climax of the work when monumentally she brought together all the scenographic devices developed throughout the Tetralogy.

So, in the Immolation scene, as Brünnhilde reviews the struggles involved in winning and losing the Ring, the primeval creatures who emerged at the beginning of Rheingold return to lay beneath Siegfried’s corpse relevant symbols from the struggles: the sword, the spear, the Tarnhelm and so on.Nor did Gilmore and Oberle flinch from a representation of the Downfall of the Gods. Dancers portraying the latter escape the clutches of the primeval creatures but, after having been apparently immortalised as Greek-like divine busts in Walhalla, they along with the building are submerged beneath the all-enveloping waters.

It is sad to report that, in general, the soloists in Götterdämmerung did not match up to the quality of the orchestral contribution and the staging. Thomas Mohr sang well as Siegfried, particularly in the Third Act, but was somewhat prosaic in demeanour. As Brünnhilde, Christiane Libor lacked stage presence and was vocally stretched when at full volume. Rúni Brattaberg sang with a marked vibrato in the upper register and presented far too bland a Hagen, lacking in malevolence. There was a mellifluous trio of Rhinemaidens and the Norns were suitably earnest and sonorous. But the best performance was delivered by Tuomas Pursio who combined a brightly sung Gunther with a superbly detailed character study of the role (for example, nervous hand movements revealing his insecurity and doubts), thereby adding to his achievements as the Rheingold Wotan and the Siegfried Alberich.

Another aspect of the Leipzig Ring needs to be mentioned. Performing parts of the work on consecutive days meant that the major roles had to be taken by different singers as the cycle progressed. In some cases, this was not inappropriate as, for instance, the personalities of Wotan and Alberich develop from one’s encounter with them in Rheingold to their later appearances. But it was somewhat disconcerting to have had a sprightly young-looking Siegfried waking Brünnhilde being succeeded by a mature, physically inhibited hero replace him the day after their blissful union.

Summing up: a most enjoyable, accomplished Ring which benefited from the outstanding qualities of Schirmer and his orchestra, the perception and coherent vision of Gilmore and her designers, and the worthy contributions of some, but not all, of the soloists.