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Saturday, April 20, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Götterdämmerung

The Ring comes to a curiously old-fashioned conclusion.
The three Norns (Elizabeth Bishop, Ronnita Miller, and Wendy Bryn Harmer) weave the rope of
destiny as the Machine "looms" above. Photo by Ken Howard © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.
The last and longest chapter of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Götterdammerung (”The Twilight of the Gods”) also had the longest gestation period. (Wagner wrote this libretto first, but the music was the last part of the project to be completed.) This opera demands commitment, even from the most fervent Wagnerian. A performance is six hours with intermissions but it goes by with the speed of a bullet train.

What is Götterdämmerung?
This is where it all ends. Götterdämmerung is a weighty retelling of the tragic death of Siegfried, the hero who we first met in the opera that bears his name. (When this was a stand-alone work, Wagner's original title  was simply Siegfried’s Death.) The lunk-headed hero’s end sets up the final conflagration that ends the world, at once destroying the Gods and correcting the original sin (the theft of the gold from the Rhine) which began the cycle way back in Das Rheingold.

What's the plot?
In a prelude, the Norns moan in horror as their rope, which chronicles the history of the world, finally breaks. Brunnhilde sends Siegfried off to have many manly adventures. He quickly falls into a snare set by the Gibichungs, a powerful but unscrupulous family on the Rhine River. The court advisor Hagen drugs Siegfried, and persuades him to abduct Brunnhilde from her rock so she can be married off to the king, Gunther. Brunnhilde, upon arrival, swears vengeance and reveals to Hagen that Siegfried can be killed if struck from behind. He is given an antidote, and then swiftly murdered by Hagen. On the advice of the Rhinemaidens, Brunnhilde takes the ring from Siegfried’s dead hand and commands that a funeral pyre be built She rides her horse into the flames, returning the Ring to the Rhine from whence it came and thus saving the world. In the distance, the castle of Valhalla burns.

How’s the music?
This is the epitome of the late Wagner style, so the pace is electric. The big showpieces: the Rhine Journey, the summoning of the Gibichung vassals (the first actual chorus in the Ring) and of course the Immolation scene are among the most thrilling scenes that the composer ever wrote. The familiar system of rapidly developing leitmotifs is still employed here, with mind-boggling dexterity. Wagner sometimes layers in three or four motives at once, weaving a thick musical fabric from these little themes to thrilling effect.

Tell me something else interesting?
Ok, here's a few quick thoughts.

  • Although Götterdämmerung has the last music written for the Ring, it was the first libretto to be written. It juxtaposes very modern musical ideas with a story that is a bit creaky and old-fashioned, relying on plot contrivances like magic potions and transforming helmets to wind its way forward. 
  • The Immolation is a plus-sized workout for the soprano at the end of a long and difficult night. 
  • The apocalypse that ends the opera (the collapse of the Gibichungs hall, the flooding of the stage and the burning of Valhalla) are straight out of Parisian grand opera.
Who's in it?
Christine Goerke sings Brunnhilde, which is all to the good. Andreas Schager and Stefan Vinke share the role of the muscly but dumb Siegfried. His opposite number is Hagen, played by Eric Owens. Tomas Konieczny is Alberich, still scheming to get his hands on the Ring. Event Nikitin is the hapless king Gunther and Edith Haller is his sister Gutrune. This is the only opera in the Ring to feature the superb Met Chorus. Philippe Jordan conducts.

How’s the production?
Like the other three chapters in the Robert Lepage production of the Ring, Götterdämmerung makes use of the "Machine," the high-tech set that shapes itself to provide whatever scenery is needed. Here the contraption spends most of the opera configured as the Gibichung Hall, the castle where Siegfried's doom is plotted. Other stunning effects include serving as the Rhine River and the opera's prologue, where the Norns weave their rope using the moving planks like a giant loom.

When does it open?
There are just three performances of this opera this season. On April 27th, there's a matinee (starting at 11am!) and evening performances starting at 6pm on May 4 and 11. Please note that these shows are six hours each.

Where can I get tickets?
Individual tickets for the first performance are available through the Met box office. There will be a very limited number of rush tickets sold at 7am on April 27. At present, the other tickets are only available by subscribing to complete Ring cycles, though that may change if these shows fail to sell out. Call the Met box office (212) 362-6000 or visit for more information.

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