Opera North’s Semi-Staged Götterdämmerung
Why, I ask myself, did the Opera North semi-staged performance of Götterdämmerung in the Leeds Town Hall make such an impact? To begin with, we in the audience were much closer to the singers than in a conventional theatre. More obviously, the positioning of the large orchestra on the stage, rather than in the pit, gave a sharper profile to that dimension of the performance. And since we had the good fortune to have Richard Farnes as conductor we could appreciate not only the broad sweep of the famous passages in the score but also impressive and intriguing attention to detail. For example, in the second half of the Prologue, as dawn breaks on the Rhine, we could sense in the music the lovers rubbing the sleep from their eyes as they awoke and in the Journey to Rhine, the ripples on the water could be heard as Siegfried churns his way through them. A big thank you to members of the orchestra who, once again, showed that they were second to none in music of this kind.
Unlike some of previous parts of this Ring cycle, concessions do not have to be made for the singing which was truly of an international quality. Alwyn Mellor, for example, who has fully internalised the range of emotions in Brünnhilde’s predicament, was much superior to the soprano who took the role in Walküre and Siegfried, maintaining the colour and intonation of the voice at full volume, even at the end of a long evening. And the heldentenor Mati Turi again convinced having both the steel to ride the orchestral sound and the lyricism for his Act Three narration. The sonorous bass of Mats Almgren met the considerable demands of the role of Hagen, added to which his physical demeanour epitomised, but without exaggeration, evil. A word of praise too for Susan Bickley who as Waltraute made much of my favourite scene in this work.
And was the semi-staging effective? Having learned from the challenging experiences of the past three years, Peter Mumford has, I think, achieved the right balance of movement and dramatic representation. Getting the deceased Siegfried to walk off and on the stage in front of Gunther was perhaps somewhat awkward but death scenes are a problem in performances of this kind. Nevertheless, taken as a whole and aided by the clarity of the projected summaries of the story, this version of the Ring facilitates comprehension of, and engagement with, Wagner’s masterpiece.