The Lowry, Salford
And so the crashing climax to Wagner’s masterpiece sees the meddlesome Gods banished from the mortal world. Hatred is swept from the hearts of men. The gold ring plucked so unwisely from the Rhine to induce such treachery among humans is restored to the depths. Pure Nature prevails again.
Wagner’s Ring cycle was an operatic blockbuster in 1876, primal themes magnificently sustained by a score and libretto of immense power and subtlety.
Even through the half-staging in Opera North’s wonderful production the power of the art is gripping.
Half-staged because the full scale of the work just cannot be embraced by most stages. The 92 piece orchestra is raised from the pit and squeezed onto the stage. The chorus is packed in at the back. Principals move with deliberate slowness at the front, staring out trance-like to us the audience, rarely interacting with each other. Such are the conventions and limitations of half-staging.
Thematic video images are projected across the backstage ... water, fire, clouds, woodland, stone. Water and fire are the heart of Gotterdammerung (The Twilight of the Gods), the final part of the four year journey.
There’s a real sense of achievement for the audience as well as the company. We too can call ourselves Wagnerians having completed almost 30 hours of opera, six hours and thirty minutes on the day.
The world’s hero Siegfried, pure and naive, has rescued Brunnhilde from the mountainous ring of fire when he is cruelly tricked by the reptilian Hagen into betraying her.
It begins a calamitous descent in which humanity is like flies to wanton boys.
All leading roles are powerfully delivered. Mati Turi returns as the hero with a mix of simple, bucolic brashness He’s no match for Mats Almgren’s superb Hagen, “pale and wan” from craven desire who plots Siegfried’s destruction. Alwyn Mellor’s is the most physically challenging of the night. A head-on, bravura performance as the tragic Brunnhilde who casts herself into the flame to save humankind.
Mostly, Gotterdammerung sees the dramatic power of the music take centre stage, faultlessly controlled by Richard Farnes, with Siegfried’s lyrical Rhine journey, to the funeral procession, to the final redemption borne by the strings.
It’s a crying shame to see the world’s hero not borne on a shield shoulder high into the flames ... but slumping off, walking, head bowed. One day we might get to see a Bayreuth sized stage big enough to set the actors free.