Live Broadcast from The Met, New York, Saturday 11th February, 2012
And so Wagner’s big Ring cycle comes to a big finish with this hefty, almost six hours long work that is the culmination of the previous three, musically, thematically, plot-wise and every which way. It is a stunning way to spend a quarter of a day.
Jay Hunter Morris returns as Siegfried who, in love with and married to Brünnhilde appears at first to be older and wiser in the ways of the world. Tragically, he is still the innocent abroad, readily duped by Gunther into swearing a blood oath Siegfried would never dream of breaking. He also gulps a potion of forgetfulness, deleting Brünnhilde from his memory and clearing the way for Gunther’s sister Gutrune to get her romantic hooks in him. Jay Hunter Morris is a remarkable performer – the close-ups afforded to the cinema audience reveal a subtlety that runs alongside his swaggering and eye-flashing. When he flirts with the water-maidens, he is the charming young man from the previous opera. Sadly, his life is cut short before he can achieve full manhood.
Gunther (Iain Paterson) appears to be resentful most of the time, while Gutrune (Wendy Bryn Harmer) instils a tenderness in this role. The siblings aren’t that likeable a pair, using deception and treachery to sort out their love lives. Low self-esteem issues, obviously.
Puppet master of Siegfried’s downfall is Hagen, a (literally) towering performance by Hans-Peter Konig, driven by his lust for Siegfried’s ring (stop it!). While we’re suspending our disbelief about just about everything in the story, we must not make too much of the fact that he’s supposed to be half-dwarf. In the end, it’s not the myths and legends, dungeons and dragons setting that is the point. What comes out in this production is the power and wealth of the music. The setting is a prism through which Wagner shines light on universal themes and emotions. The death of Siegfried is a real kick in the heart.
The all-moving, versatile floorboards are yet again put to breathtaking use, accompanied by video projections that suggest location and mood. The water-maidens scamper up rocks and slide down the waterfall; Gunther tries to wash Siegfried’s blood from his hands and turns the river red… There is also an animatronic Grane the Horse, formed only from his battle armour.
Above all, this show belongs to Deborah Voigt’s magnificent Brünnhilde. Not a character you’d like to tangle with on one of her good days, this former Valkyrie really goes through the mill in this instalment. At the start, we see her softer side, when she and hubby Siegfried are happy and in love. By the end, we have witnessed her betrayal, her pain and fury. When she immolates herself on Siegfried’s pyre and in doing so brings about the end of an entire pantheon, we believe it.
The supposedly lengthy running time flew by. If you haven’t been to one of these live or as live cinema broadcasts, I urge you to do so, and if the Met don’t release the whole cycle as a DVD boxed set, I will want to know the reasons why. Sung to me in German by Jay Hunter Morris and Deborah Voigt on the back of their mechanical horse.