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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

DVD Review: The Boulez Ring: Götterdämmerung

Siegfried (Manfred Jung) hooks up with Gutrune
(Jeanine Altmeyer) in Act II of Götterdämmerung.
Photo © 1979 Bayreuth Festival
The entry of the chorus in Act II of the final installment of Patrice Chéreau's Ring cycle marks the rise of the proletariat working class, under the leadership of Hagen, a political boss in a cheap suit. Their importance is emphasized in the third act, as they stare mutely, accusingly at the audience as Siegfried's body is carried off the stage, and as the old patrician order of the Gods perishes in flames. Unfortunately, weak vocal performances mean that this cycle ends not with a bang, but with a whimper in D major.

The biggest problem with this Götterdämmerung is Manfred Jung as Siegfried. While he managed in the first opera, its sequel finds the singer completely out of his depth. He doesn't even attempt the two most difficult moments in the score. One is the passage at the end of Act I where Siegfried, (disguised as Gunther) must pretend to be a baritone, singing a full octave below his range.

The other is in Act II, when he sings a full octave leap on a sixteenth note. (This often makes Siegfrieds sound like they are strangling cats instead of killing dragons.) Considering that this performance was done for posterity in front of an empty Bayreuth Festspielhaus, the absence of these difficult moments is inexcusable.

The Gibichungs are also weak. Fritz Hüber lacks the low, menacing bass notes required to sing Hagen, and he shouts himself hoarse in the second act. Franz Mazura looks corrupt as Gunther, and gives a convincing portrait of the King as a twisted old man desperate to marry. Jeanine Altmeyer, who sang Sieglinde earlier in this cycle, is a strong Gutrune. One wonders if the casting of the same actress who played Siegfried's mother was an innovative Oedipal twist on the part of the director.

Siegfried gets killed by Hagen (Fritz Hübner) in Götterdämmerung.
These performances were filmed and recorded a year before the other three operas in the cycle. Gwyneth Jones is shrill and occasionally suffers from wobble as Brunnhilde. However, her acting and interactions with Manfred Jung remain thrilling theatrical moments. Gwendolyn Killebrew is also an excellent Waltraute, making her long dialogue with Brunnhilde one of the riveting moments in this very long evening. It is also interesting to note future valkyrie Gabriela Schnaut in the cast--she sings the Second Norn.

Hagen summons the Gibichung vassals in Act II of Götterdämmerung
All photos and video © 1979 Unitel/Deutsche Grammophon.

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