GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG Opera North, The Lowry
To criticize Wagner’s dramaturgy in Götterdämmerung for being too conventional is beside the point. It has love duets, oath-swearing, a choral wedding scene, a vengeance trio and a funeral march – all ideas other operatic dramatists use. I don’t buy the idea that the Ring cycle’s parts bear the same relationship to each other as the movements of a symphony (the first is shorter than the others, and the third is in no way a scherzo), but Wagner knew he needed a finale, and a finale needs denouements and drama.
What that drama provides is a feast of opportunities for the soloists (and, in this case, chorus), as well as the orchestra, to sock it to their audience. Opera North’s 2016 cast – in eight cases identical to that of 2014 – were up for all of them, and the orchestra, if not quite on the peak of virtuosic form we saw on Thursday night, were playing magnificently.
The prolonged standing ovation that came at the end of the evening was testimony to the gratitude that surged around the hall at the close of the whole vast undertaking, and the vision of Opera North’s outgoing musical director, Richard Farnes, in making it happen. You don’t often hear calls of ‘Maestro, maestro!’ among the bravos at the end of an opera performance in England, but they were heard last night.
Peter Mumford’s filmic staging of the story was as lucid and effective as before, but the chief glory of this performance was in the emotional presence and acting of the principal characters, combined with some very fine singing, and chief among those, I think, was soprano Kelly Cae Hogan’s Brünnhilde. Her power and tone were unflagging – and remember this was her third marathon appearance in the role in five days – and she brought passion and intensity to every part, with the immolation as a mighty climax.
I love Mati Turi’s Fred Flintstone-style interpretation of Siegfried (and did when he took the role in both the latter parts of the cycle before), and he made another fine job of it this time, despite some strain creeping into the highest register towards the end.
But perhaps the most surprising elements, in soloistic terms, were the heartfelt and energized characterization of Gutrune by Giselle Allen, a wonderful dramatic singer, and the attention held throughout her monologue by Heather Shipp as Waltraute – both newcomers to the cast this year (though of course we’ve known them as great artists with Opera North before).
Mats Almgren (Hagen) and Jo Pohlheim (Alberich) fulfilled every expectation in their respective personifications of evil and meanness, and sang with resonant malevolence, and Andrew Foster-Williams made the weak-willed and covetous Gunther a petulant egotist while singing with consistent strength.
The Valkyries from Das Rheingold (Jeni Bern, Madeleine Shaw and Sarah Castle) were as liquidly lovely as before, and Fiona Kimm, Yvonne Howard and Lee Bisset made baleful Norns. Opera North are lucky to be able to have singers from big roles in other parts of the cycle taking the lesser ones here as a bonus. And the 50-strong chorus (35 of them men) made that wedding scene – which all ends in tears in a way that outdoes any TV soap opera) – completely thrilling.