Are we watching a mob shootout? A video shows an unseen gunman popping off gods one by one.
It’s the finale of “Gotterdammerung” and of the first “Ring” cycle at the Paris Opera in more than half a century. The production has strong points. Coherence isn’t one of them.
At the beginning of the cycle, director Gunter Kramer and set designer Jurgen Backmann sought to draw a parallel between the ups and downs of the gods and the history of Germany, which was united while Wagner was working on his tetralogy.
In “Das Rheingold,” the inscription GERMANIA appeared on a monumental staircase. In “Die Walkure,” a furious Wotan knocked down three letters so that only MANIA remained, a broad hint at Germany’s catastrophe one Reich later.
The idea might not have been original -- it inspired Luchino Visconti’s 1969 movie “The Damned,” to cite just one example -- yet it was useful enough to serve as a leitmotif.
In “Gotterdammerung,” the directorial team seems to have forgotten its initial concept. The program is replete with images of World Wars I and II. Onstage, though, we are treated to a series of decidedly unpolitical scenes.
Siegfried’s Rhine Journey is accompanied by a ballet of cancanning dancers in red. The palace of the Gibichungen looks like a cafeteria gaily decorated with streamers for what might be an office party.
While Waltraute describes Wotan’s despondency, her sister Brunnhilde busily stows away the family china in a sideboard. Hagen sits in a wheelchair, an awkward position for a killer: Siegfried and Gunther have to practically throw themselves into his lap so he can do his deadly work.
The low point is the lame handling of the funeral march, one of the grandest moments in opera history crying out for a strong visual equivalent. Instead, we have to watch yet another video with a man climbing a ladder while Siegfried’s body on the floor doesn’t budge.
The costumes are modern: Siegfried is clad in a dark three-piece suit, Brunnhilde in a white evening gown. The Norns appear in black cocktail dress with sunglasses and stiletto heels.
The musical side is more convincing.
The cast is dominated by Hans-Peter Konig’s magnificent Hagen. Katarina Dalayman’s Brunnhilde sails through her demanding part with assurance. The only drawback is her habit of hurling out the top notes instead of blending them into the melodic line.
In happier times when a heldentenor could be found behind every tree, Torsten Kerl would have sung character roles such as Mime. He is clearly underequipped for Siegfried yet handles his limited resources with intelligence and style.
Iain Paterson is a gruff Gunther and Sophie Koch is a passionate Waltraute. The weak link is Christiane Libor’s anemic Gutrune.
Apart from a few shaky entries, probably due to first-night nerves, the orchestra is in top form. Philippe Jordan, who became the Paris Opera’s chief conductor last year, has overcome his initial cautiousness and perfectly balances his forces, never overpowering the singers.
“Gotterdammerung” is in repertory at the Bastille Opera through June 30. Information: http://www.operadeparis.fr or +33-1-7125-2423.
(Jorg von Uthmann is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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