June 7, 2011By Nick HammondMusic

Siegfried (played by Torsten Kerl) toys with the world. Photo: Opéra national de Paris/Elisa Haberer

Detractors of Wagner’s Ring Cycle claim that the four operas promote an Aryan ideal of heroism, which explains why they appealed to the extremism of Hitler and his Nazi cohorts. Yet, anyone who watches Götterdämmerung (The Twilight of the Gods), the final installment of the tetralogy, can convincingly argue the opposite point of view, because all idealism is shown to be illusory, as the immolation of Brünnhilde leads to the destruction of the world and Valhalla, the dwelling place of the Gods. But there is so much more to it: vengeance, abandonment, greed, love and, finally, redemption. It is clear that Wagner is not afraid to tackle the big subjects, as befits a cycle that lasts 15 hours!

Günter Krämer’s production of Götterdämmerung, conducted by Philippe Jordan, at the Bastille Opera House, manages to avoid most of the silliness of the third opera in this cycle, Siegfried, where Mime was portrayed as a mincing queen. I say most, because for some reason, in the Gibichung scenes, a whole cohort of male extras appear dressed as Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, complete with dresses made of old curtains (I wondered whether they were supposed to symbolize curtains parting to reveal a new world, but gave up that line of questioning very quickly).

Overall, the good ideas outweigh the bad. Visually, this is a very striking production, from the Norns, who sing against an urban backdrop and transform themselves into the Rhinemaidens at the end of the Prologue, to the huge transparent screen that variously represents the river Rhine, the ghostly ascent of the dead Siegfried and the final conflagration.

Vocally, all the singers are very impressive. Katarina Dalayman as Brünnhilde and Torsten Kerl as Siegfried follow their excellent performances in Siegfried with, if anything, even better renditions here. The part of Brünnhilde in particular requires extraordinary stamina, and while Dalayman’s tone is occasionally uneven, the power and impact of her singing is never in doubt. Hans-Peter König makes a particularly menacing Hagen, and Sophie Koch is very effective as Waltraute, an often ungrateful role.

Philippe Jordan manages to coax the most extraordinary sounds from the orchestra. Having seen and heard the opera countless times, I felt that I was discovering a new work in this performance. Wagner manages at one moment to follow a long operatic heritage and at another to be startlingly modern, and Jordan brings out the dissonances without being anachronistic.

Nick Hammond

Opéra National de Paris: Place de la Bastille, 75012 Paris. Métro: Bastille. Tel.: 0 892 89 90 90 or + 33 (0)1 71 25 24 23 (from abroad). Remaining performances: June 12, 18, 22, 26, 30. Tickets: €5-€180. www.operadeparis.fr

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