WAGNER: Gˆtterd‰mmerung

Too, she has sheathed the norns
in plastic tubing (surviving slices of the Midgard serpent?), and then there
are the colored pompoms on the heads of the perpetually tumbling Rhinemaidens
and the orange panniers on poor Gutrune (all the Gibichungs wear Halloween
colors). One expects little questions like this when watching any Wagner
production nowadays, but designer Rosalie ñ who apparently stole the
spotlight (Manfred Voss did the superb lighting) from producer/director
Alfred Kirchner when this 1997 Bayreuth Ring premiered ñ seems to
have a real causa against the female anatomy. With Wagnerian leading ladies
as svelte as Mmes. Polaski, Schwanewilms and Schwarz, it seems ungrateful to
say the least to costume them as if they were steatopygous Neolithic

The sets, too, are Rosalieís work. Gunther and Gutrune in their
Expressionist lounge chairs clearly signal rich, decadent, too-too to take
seriously, but Hagen is in the usual black leather. (Just once Iíd like to
see Hagen performed as a loafing aesthete who surprises people with his
long-concealed plots ñ itís absurd to make him so sinister and have no
one on stage ever suspect what heís up to.) Sword and Ring and Tarnhelm are
present if tacky in closeup, and Siegfried looks genuinely alarming when
heís in disguise, his head covered in the Tarnhelm and his shoulder in
Guntherís chic orange cloak.

Kirchner, however, is responsible for the staged action; itís unusually
clear and the acting choice. I liked ardent, enthusiastic Siegfried rushing
so eagerly into Guntherís palace that he overshoots the stage and has to
walk back from the wings, Hagen making love to his own spear, the tumbling
Rhinemaidens, the threatening movements of the crowd of soldiers such that
Siegfried seems a simpleton (which he is) never to perceive its whiff of the
Night of the Long Knives.

The set is the top of a globe, its lines of latitude and longitude
implying the universality of the mystery. The rest of the stage is matte
black against which the colorful singers stand out like symbols in a morality
drama ñ which this is and they are. The trees of the forest are barren
metal stalks, like expressionistic crucifixes, and they bow low to mourn dead
Siegfried. A huge screen descends during the Immolation to display light-show
fire that evolves on cue into light-show flood. (You should watch these
scenes in a very dark room. Or all of it.)

The singing, despite a few stretches here and there (Schwanewilmsís
Gutrune seems whiny, which has not been my impression of her on other
recordings), is excellent. I donít know how many different performances (or
rehearsals) were culled for the final tape (there is no audience noise or
applause), but Polaskiís somewhat chilly Brunnhilde is in floods of voice
from love duet to immolation, which has not always been true of her on a
single night, and Wolfgang Schmidt, who sounds as if he would have trouble
managing Siegfriedís punishing demands in a larger house, continues to
sound youthful and eager to the bitter end here.

The glory of this recording is the orchestral sound which, under James
Levine, rises through the floor in Bayreuthís unique configuration (a
discussion of how the miking for recordings is done there would be of
interest) and surrounds the singers, so that they seem to be breathing music
and moving through an atmosphere of it. The various instruments (and not
merely their leitmotifs) seem to be characters in the drama as important as
the singers and not nearly so awkwardly dressed.

John Yohalem

image_description=Richard Wagner: Gˆtterd‰mmerung
product_title=Richard Wagner: Gˆtterd‰mmerung
product_by=Deborah Polaski, Wolfgang Schmidt, Anne Schwanewilms, Falk Struckmann, Eric Halfvarson, Hanna Schwarz, Bayreuther Festspiele, James Levine. Staged by Alfred Kirchner.
product_id=DG 073 4340 [2DVDs]