Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Evening of Wagner


Last night I attended my first opera for 2017 (I missed last week's The Magic Flute because I was too tired from our vacation). It was the COC's final opera in Wagner's Ring Cycle, Gotterdammurung. Running for a total of five and half hours with two intermissions it is a marathon of an opera. Like any Wagner opera the music is beautifully orchestrated with lots of repetitive musical themes (leitmotifs) which are used throughout the piece to suggest mood and character development. This form of orchestral scoring has been more popularly known and used in the twentieth-century in films, like John Williams score for Star Wars, where each character has their own musical theme. On top of the character themes Wagner spends a lot of time retelling the story over and over making it a really long night.

The stage design by Michael Levine continued the themes he developed in the other three operas leading up to the finale. In the prologue the three Norns dressed in simple black modern outfits weave the threads of fate, red ropes against a stage defined by the scaffolding he used in earlier incarnations. The ropes then extend across the ceiling of the stage as they stretch from one side to the other. Throughout the evening Levine's colour palette consisted of black outfits, bright white lights and red accessories like chairs or couches. This minimalist approach allowed the director (Tim Albery) to focus on the singing and the story sung by the characters.

In the next scene the fire surrounding Brunhilde was suggested with a bank of red lights that ran along the back of the stage. In front lay a double bed bathed in white light where Brunhilde and Siegfried made their home on top of a mountain. Brunhilde who was dressed in a long black nightgown and a red dressing robe was beautifully sung by Christine Goerke. Throughout the entire opera she was able to capture the raw beauty and power of Brunhilde as she moved from joy and happiness to sorrow, hatred and anger. Her voice was matched by Andreas Schager's Siegfried but I found Ain Anger's Hagen the real star of the evening. Not only did his voice invoke the character of Hagen he was able to bring to life the darkness of intent behind Hagen's actions.



For the home of the Gibichungs Levine chose to create a modern office setting that reminded me of the design world invoked by Mad Men. There was a large metallic desk, two apple like computer screens (which later lit red effectively invoked evil) and a mid-century modern red couch backed by a bank of sheer drapes. It was simple and beautiful and the use of the corporate motif worked to define the greed behind the actions of Hagen, Gunther and Gutrune. The only times it seemed a little out of place was against Seigfried's sword Nothung.


The metallic desk used by Levine later grew in proportion becoming in essence a mini stage that was used for the betrothment and betrayal scenes. I really thought that the desk was actually a powerful stage element that could have been used more effectively throughout the entire piece. As a platform it could have stood in for the mountain on which Brunhilde is prisoner more effectively than the bed and table and chairs that were actually used. Levine is a master of minimalist design using simple elements to define his sets but I found too often throughout the evening the curtain which drew to one side was drawn while the orchestra played. If Levine had used the desk as the primary stage element along with his effective use of lighting I think there would have been less need for set changes in back of the drawn curtain, which in the first two acts seemed far to long and drawn out. 

Because of the length of the piece the evening was split into two intermissions, and I found myself too tired to continue after the second intermission, so sadly I did not see the finale. I would have liked to stay to the end but I needed to get home for a good night's sleep. 

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