Alemania

Brünnhilde’s Escape

Jesse Simon
viernes, 4 de noviembre de 2022
Tcherniakov, Götterdämmerung © 2022 by Staatsoper unter den Linden Tcherniakov, Götterdämmerung © 2022 by Staatsoper unter den Linden
Berlin, domingo, 9 de octubre de 2022. Staatsoper Unter den Linden. Wagner: Götterdämmerung. Dmitri Tcherniakov, director. Andreas Schager (Siegfried), Lauri Vasar (Gunther), Johannes Martin Kränzle (Alberich), Mika Kares (Hagen), Anja Kampe (Brünnhilde), Mandy Fredrich (Gutrune), Violeta Urmana (Waltraute), Noa Beinart (First Norn), Kristina Stanek (Second Norn), Anna Samuil (Third Norn), Evelin Novak (Woglinde), Natalia Skrycka (Wellgunde), and Anna Lapkovskaja (Flosshilde). Staatskapelle Berlin. Christian Thielemann, conductor
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Even in some of the most traditional productions of the Ring, the world of gods, dwarves and giants – a world into which mortals have been dropped like lab-rats into a maze – is portrayed as inherently unstable; it is only after that world collapses and brings an end to the wrangling of its mythological figures that humanity can consider itself free. Although Dmitri Tcherniakov’s new production at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden has been about as untraditional as they come, his Götterdämmerung – which had its première exactly a week after Rheingold first took the stage – brought the cycle to a similar conclusion. In telling the story of Brünnhilde’s hard-won escape from the vaguely sinister E.S.C.H.E. institute, Mr Tcherniakov achieved a level of emotional and thematic closure that, even at the end of Siegfried, was far from guaranteed.

The curtain on the final instalment came up to reveal the familiar simulation house from Walküre and Siegfried in which Siegfried and Brünnhilde were now united in a kind domestic bliss. But something was different: the house was no longer anchored to Wotan’s observation room. Had the E.S.C.H.E. institute already been destroyed as prophesied by the Norns? It had not, but when we finally arrived there at the beginning of the first act it was apparent that much had changed since the end of Siegfried. Although the rooms were clearly the same, the wood panelling and elegant furniture had been removed and everything had been redone in an offensively bland modern corporate style in which the chairs, desks and even the wall cladding seemed to have been selected from an office supply catalogue. (In addition to its other thematic interests, Mr Tcherniakov’s Ring has offered an unexpectedly insightful critique of late-twentieth and early-twenty-first century architectural and interior design trends).

Wagner: Götterdämmerung. Christian Thielemann, conductor. Dmitri Tcherniakov, director. Berlin, Staatsoper Unter den Linden, October 2022. © 2022 by Staatsoper unter den Linden.Wagner: Götterdämmerung. Christian Thielemann, conductor. Dmitri Tcherniakov, director. Berlin, Staatsoper Unter den Linden, October 2022. © 2022 by Staatsoper unter den Linden.

The management at E.S.C.H.E. had also changed: Wotan was no longer in charge, and his office had been taken over by the ineffectual Gunther and his obnoxious, day-drinking sister, both of whom seemed intent on maxing out their personal expense accounts while doing no actual work. In the absence of real leadership it was Hagen – whose bloody eye suggested he may himself have been the product of a partially botched E.S.C.H.E. experiment – who was now calling the shots at the institute, and his desire to take a more hands-on approach to the continuation of Wotan’s behavioural experiments was the primary engine of the events that would culminate in Siegfried’s death.

As in the previous instalments, Mr Tcherniakov’s staging seemed less interested in finding precise analogues for events in the libretto than in creating a parallel narrative bound to Wagner’s original through a complex network of affinities, resonances and reflections. Just as the floorplan of the E.S.C.H.E. institute projected onto the curtain during the intervals (although curiously absent on this evening) had proved unreliable as a guide to the world that appeared on stage, so too was it impossible to map the events of the staging to the action of the Ring with exact precision. What had seemed during Rheingold to be a rigorous logic governing the staging was revealed in the later operas to be only an illusion of logic. It was an illusion strong enough to keep the audience engaged with the task of putting together the pieces, but slippery enough to evade any kind of close scrutiny.

It was, in fact, the disorienting illogic of the E.S.C.H.E. institute – an illogic masquerading as logic – that allowed Mr Tcherniakov the freedom to explore ideas related only obliquely to Wagner’s text. If the scenes in Götterdämmerung weren’t always convincing as a continuous narrative, they almost always succeeded in conveying a familiar emotional essence. The arrival of Waltraute at Brünnhilde’s house conjured perfectly the sense of two friends who, reunited after a long absence, soon realise they no longer have anything in common; and there were few more inspired scenes than the duet of the Prologue, which was reimagined as Brünnhilde helping Siegfried prepare for his first day at a new job.

Wagner: Götterdämmerung. Christian Thielemann, conductor. Dmitri Tcherniakov, director. Berlin, Staatsoper Unter den Linden, October 2022. © 2022 by Staatsoper unter den Linden.Wagner: Götterdämmerung. Christian Thielemann, conductor. Dmitri Tcherniakov, director. Berlin, Staatsoper Unter den Linden, October 2022. © 2022 by Staatsoper unter den Linden.

Mr Tcherniakov was also able to draw on our accumulated experience of the institute to create a handful of arresting moments. Just before Siegfried’s death the set, for the first time in the cycle, started to scroll backwards from left to right and it felt as though we had reached the end of time itself; there was simply nowhere left to go. A silent guest appearance from Michael Volle as Wotan gave tremendous weight to two key scenes in the final act and allowed Brünnhilde’s closing monologue to answer some of the lingering questions arising from the earlier instalments. And if there was no great cataclysm in the last scene, the final moments were nonetheless able to evoke a definitive ending for the institute and an uncertain – as yet unwritten – new beginning for humanity.

For all that Mr Tcherniakov was willing to drag the themes of the Ring far beyond their normal context, the four evenings of the cycle were balanced by performances that, with a minimum of fuss, brought out the intoxicating musical qualities that have drawn generations of listeners into Wagner’s world. On this evening the vocal highlights were shared equally between Anja Kampe’s Brünnhilde, Andreas Schager’s Siegfried and the Hagen of Mika Kares. Since her first appearance in Walküre, Ms Kampe has edged steadily closer to the centre of the action, and despite a strong confrontation with Wotan, and an excellent closing scene in Siegfried, it was in the final evening that she offered her finest moments.

Wagner: Götterdämmerung. Christian Thielemann, conductor. Dmitri Tcherniakov, director. Berlin, Staatsoper Unter den Linden, October 2022. © 2022 by Staatsoper unter den Linden.Wagner: Götterdämmerung. Christian Thielemann, conductor. Dmitri Tcherniakov, director. Berlin, Staatsoper Unter den Linden, October 2022. © 2022 by Staatsoper unter den Linden.

If the edge of doubt and humility in Ms Kampe’s performance was an odd match for the warrior maiden of Walküre, it yielded a Brünnhilde of considerable depth and complexity for Götterdämmerung. There was genuine warmth mixed into the strident energy of the Prologue duet with Siegfried, and her only moment of cool valkyrian pride – showing Waltraute the door – was followed by expressions of shame, hurt and anger that drove the wedding scene to its greatest dramatic peaks. Although she seemed wearied by the emotional turmoil of the second act, she kept enough in reserve for a final monologue in the third that achieved its power less through heroic declamation than quiet regret.

Mika Kares had already provided the cycle with an unusually lyrical Fasolt and an appealingly sinister Hunding, but those earlier roles only hinted at the mixture of severity and beguiling fluidity he would bring to Hagen. With elegant phrasing and rich tone in even the lowest passages he was the dark counterweight to the frivolity of Gunther and Gutrune, and his first act monologue was infused with exactly the right level of menace. But it was in the second act that he emerged as a major force, summoning the vassals with ominous gusto, directing the action of the wedding scene, and tempting Brünnhilde with the promise of revenge.

The vocally and physically inexhaustible Andreas Schager continued in the high energy mode he had established in Siegfried, often with thrilling results. The earnest devotion of the Prologue duet was replaced by a familiar cockiness in his first meeting with Gunther and Hagen; and his reappearance to Brünnhilde at the end of the first act was made all the more chilling by his indifference at feigning Gunther’s voice. His arrogance and (apparent) cluelessness in the second act were a perfect foil for the rage of Brünnhilde and the manipulations of Hagen; and a similar arrogance yielded an especially engaging encounter with the Rhinemaidens (given fine performances on this evening by Evelin Novak, Natalia Skrycka and Anna Lapkovskaja, reprising their roles – albeit not exactly the same characters – from Rheingold).

Wagner: Götterdämmerung. Christian Thielemann, conductor. Dmitri Tcherniakov, director. Berlin, Staatsoper Unter den Linden, October 2022. © 2022 by Staatsoper unter den Linden.Wagner: Götterdämmerung. Christian Thielemann, conductor. Dmitri Tcherniakov, director. Berlin, Staatsoper Unter den Linden, October 2022. © 2022 by Staatsoper unter den Linden.

One of the most consistently rewarding elements of the cycle has been Christian Thielemann’s musical direction, and the pleasure in his performances has been that of a master delighting in his craft. If he has rarely made obvious attempts to impress the audience with spectacle, the lustrous orchestral passages have rarely failed to make an impression. On this evening the transition from the gloomy darkness of the Norn scene to the radiance of the duet built almost imperceptibly to a majestic blaze of orchestral fire; Siegfried’s funeral march moved patiently from sorrow to triumph; and the concluding immolation achieved maximum sonic density before resolving into a moment of transfiguration as glorious as any passage in the cycle, all without pushing the orchestra into recklessness. As in the previous evenings, however, the secret of Mr Thielemann’s interpretation was his ability to shape individual phrases to the demands of the various voice on stage without ever sacrificing the dramatic flow or larger musical argument.

Even before Götterdämmerung had ended, the Staatsoper’s new Ring cycle had already started to feel legendary. Certainly many of the vocal performances were as good as one could hope to hear in the first third of the twenty-first century, and the unforced, masterly quality of Mr Thielemann’s conducting ensured that those voices were always heard to best effect. Mr Tcherniakov’s staging may not have been as universally admired by those in the audience who demand swords and dragons with their Ring, but it nonetheless deserves equal credit for making these evenings unforgettable. While necessarily not as concise or thematically cohesive as his previous Wagner reimaginings, Mr Tcherniakov offered highly-focussed scenes, a wealth of unexpected insights and, for anyone willing to look, many of the cycle’s most familiar intellectual and emotional pleasures. If some parts also prompted a degree of perplexity, so much the better … it gives us the perfect excuse to come back and watch it all again.

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