Magazine article The Spectator

Expensive Silliness

Magazine article The Spectator

Expensive Silliness

Article excerpt

Götterdämmerung Royal Opera House

On 5 August 1993 Sviatoslav Richter wrote in his notebook, after listening to a recording of Götterdämmerung (the Rome Radio recording under Furtwängler, made in 1953): 'What can you say about this music? You can only throw yourself on your knees and offer up your thanks. For me, personally, this is the supreme masterpiece.' An adequate performance of Götterdämmerung should make anyone feel like that, at least temporarily. Even a seasoned opera-goer feels awe at the prospect of sitting through this richest product of Wagner's genius, in which strands from the previous three dramas of the Ring cycle, and a surprising number of new elements, too, both musical and dramatic, are woven seamlessly into such a stupendous whole that one has the impression that there is no dissonant feature of the world or of its representation which can defeat Wagner's will to final consummation and harmony. And the music is so overpowering that if it is even partially adequately performed it can triumph over miserable shortcomings and perversities in production.

That is what it needed to do in the Royal Opera's new production, which is directed by Keith Warner. The most curious aspect of it is that it has all the trappings of 'director's opera' of the past 30 years, but doesn't seem to have within or behind it any worked-out scheme. There is the compulsory updating, in many respects, the wilful ignoring of Wagner's stage directions, the reduction of heroic figures to the status of ridiculous dolls, but if you try to see how this is an allegory or something like one you won't get anywhere. And some of it is quite traditional. The Norns have a long rope with which they try to bind one another together, and which snaps when it's meant to. The Rhine journey is shown as a projection down a choppy river, rather similar to ENO's treatment of the episode.

There is a conflagration at the end which consists of sheets of flame coming up from various parts of the stage, though not to very alarming effect. But the mountain-top on which Siegfried and Brünnhilde sing their duet -- the last genuinely rapturous music in the cycle until the last few minutes -- is the same intimidating modernist box as the Gibichung residence, minus the stretch sofa on which the three chief Gibichungs sit several yards apart from one other. A chic metal drinks trolley is a sure sign that we are in the realms of Senior Management, the usual contemporary view of Hagen, Gunther and Gutrune.

But while I have nothing against viewing Senior Management as the incarnation of evil, that's not how I see Gunther and Gutrune, and it's typical of Warner that he does. …

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