The most successful productions of Wagner’s ‘Ring’ cycle manage to present both the towering grandeur of the subjects of Gods, Men and the Universe, and the recognizable depiction of a family at war with itself. In the same way as the greatest productions of King Lear, in Keith Warner’s version of the ‘Ring’ we witness at once a domestic tragedy and a profound universal upheaval. This Götterdämmerung precisely unravels both the arrogance of the gods and the vulnerability of humans, and if at times you feel that you are witnessing a heightened version of ‘Succession,’ that is all to the good.
The cast is superb, all responding with absolute sincerity to the director’s vision of dramatic strength and convincing interaction. It’s rare to be so gripped by the Norns as this audience clearly was – and it was not just Lise Davidsen’s startling, Rita Hunter-like attack which impressed, but Irmgard Vilsmaier’s dramatic commitment and Claudia Huckle’s warm, beautiful tone.
Stefan Vinke may not have the poetry of some Siegfrieds, but when it comes to sheer stamina, vocal prowess and projection, he certainly delivers. His last utterances were unexpectedly moving. Nina Stemme possesses similar power and ability to retain vocal strength to the end, and she is engrossing in every line, with the most glorious delivery of her final music and exceptional clarity in her exchanges with Siegfried and Waltraute. Karen Cargill’s assumption of that role was exemplary, as was Emily Magee’s anxious, vulnerable Gutrune. Markus Butter’s Gunther was got up like Niles Crane on an especially flamboyant party night, and his characterization fitted in with this.
Stephen Milling’s Hagen was able to hold the stage without uttering a word, so powerful was his presence, and his singing was magisterial. Johannes Martin Kränzle’s Alberich was as impressive as ever, despite an awkward bit of staging, and the three Rhinemaidens, Lauren Fagan, Rachel Lloyd and Angela Simon sang exquisitely.
The ROH chorus, mostly creepily dressed as hoodlums (men) or handmaidens (women) sang lustily, and the orchestra was on fine form. Antonio Pappano directed a performance strong on poetry and drama, the grand climaxes as thrilling as anyone could wish, and the more tender moments finely shaped.
The production is exceptionally strong on what is generally called personenregie, giving the impression that every interaction has been studied in detail, and with no superfluous gestures or distractions – in other words, nothing to frighten the horses, but that does not mean lacking in ideas. Siegfried’s journey, the ‘family’ set-up at the Gibichungs’ and the Rhine-side ‘beach’ where the Maidens sport, were all brilliantly conceived, and the final conflagration was stunning.
There are three more chances to see it, on October 9th and 24th, and November 2nd.