The beauty of Götterdämmerung is not only that it is the artful conclusion to the massive cycle of thoughts, ideas, stories and feelings that are his earlier operas, but that it is his own elevator to everything that precedes him.
Love and lust, jealousy and power, greed and hate, infinity and finitude, community and individualism – all take their place in the masterpiece, which lasts more than four hours, and decide to make a declaration of renewal and redemption. The San Francisco Opera’s production by Francisca Zambello ensures that everyone gets their guilt and more. From the narrative resolution of the plot – the end of the world of the gods and the immortal love of Brünnhilde and Siegfried – to the flame of sacrifice and the purification necessary to restore the universal and natural order, the quadrant of the elements, earth, Air, fire, water, the artful planting of the new tree by a small child, a girl, the majestic music that conveys these resolutions, soars and rises and sets us down, we have Wagner’s conclusion. It was more than fire.
More than fire
“Götterdämmerung” begins with the Norns, the three daughters of Erda, the goddess of the earth, who “weave the threads of fate”. These roles were sung by Ronnita Miller, Jamie Barton and Sarah Cambridge. Zambello dressed their spinners in green uniforms (from the emergency room? The Sanitation Department?), Rubber aprons, gloves, boots, and sunglasses as they repair a crucial maze of separate rubber cables. In keeping with Zambello’s vision of the technological destruction of the world and nature, we meet Soprano, Mezzo and Alto, a perfect trio to highlight the importance of repairing that pause while they work to repair it.
In the first act, Waltraute asks her sister Brünnhilde to return the ring to the Valkyries and make sure that they do not lose all their power. The same request results in the same rejection. Something else must be done for the order to be restored. Wagner points out that this is not an easy solution; in fact no solution at all. Brünnhilde “really” has to wake up and Siegfried’s “betrayal” for this to happen. Actions one, two, and most of three are required for this to happen. The downbeat is not only discontinued, but increases further as the scenes progress.
Projections connect the forming movement of this evolution with the unshaped, changing clouds and colors and give us an impression of the dialogue that takes place in any human or philosophical process. And also in the musical. Cascades of soaring violins and changing brass players accompany us while we romp around on their rock with the young girl / boy lovers Brünnhilde and Siegfried. Iréne Theorin and Daniel Brenna play out their affection with serenity and vocal charm. Each shifts in words and gifts to the other, and their voices coincide in piquancy and enthusiasm. Siegfried gives Brünnhilde the ring and Brünnhilde gives Siegfried her horse Grane, every gift that is dear to the giver and that should symbolize the height of love. Sir Donald Runnicles elevates the orchestral texture with abundance. The chords and lively strings culminate in their declaration as a “shining star”, “conquer light” and the confirmation that nothing can separate them.
When they finish, another projection changes, paired with strong brass, as buildings and land are destroyed and the need for a new order arises. For moments we could not even suspect the shadow that Wagner put under them.
The two-hour first act takes us to the house of the Gibichungs and describes the shadow of evil in a remarkable way. Zambello shows this as a modern house with cream colored furniture, club chair and couch, leopard pillows and chair covers. This is Gutrune’s first appearance, convincingly sung by soprano Melissa Citro, her brother Gunther, sung by baritone Brian Mulligan, and Hagen, sung by bass Andrea Silvestrelli.
If we did not accept the proposed shadow in the embrace of lovers, then Zambello underlines this in the dialogues of the trio – corrupt conversations and plans for destruction. Siegfried’s arrival sets the actual conflict in motion, which is to be carried out from now on. Good, or at least innocent, is set against evil, the intended or believed unshakability of vows of love against the desire for power and control. The accelerating music, the increasing number of instruments – there are 89 in the entire orchestra – increase the tension we feel for an escalation of the conflict. Wagner’s taking a drink to turn Siegfried from his naive course into a powerless victim escalates the downfall. Siegfried’s willful stubbornness to stick to his point of view is strangely believable. Brenna dramatizes insisting on seeing others with the face of trust. The potion complements this.
But when he hits the leopard print pillow and asks Hagen how he knows his name, we observe the dramatic irony of the plot. Siegfried does not want to question what is going on next. In addition, his minimization of the importance of the tarn helmet and ring not only contrasts with Hagen and Gunther, but also shows that despite his naivete, he is further on the path of good than his hosts, who pretend to be sincerity. After all, he has no desire for the power that Hagen and the Gibichungs have, but for his naive belief that no one will get him into trouble if he doesn’t. A striking detail in the next scene, when he comes to Brünnhilde with a camouflage helmet on, pretends to be Gunther and dominates her, is particularly frightening. Where is “our Siegfried”? Is the camouflage helmet fully responsible? We can’t help but wonder.
The promise “woe, woe” is the perfect play-in and play-out of all promises of apparent loyalty, a perfect reminder that the dark thread is largely woven through everything that goes on. Hagen’s voice roars and thunders as the earth finds its faults. Every minute there will be an “emotional earthquake”. Runnicles’ plays the depths of the orchestra here to reflect the ponderous depths of the evil that is being committed. Dead trees and eating ravens and crows intensify the energetic loss of the rising scales. When the Waltraute is played by mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton with exceptionally powerful supplication and cajolery, we also hear the orchestra pleading for the world’s sake. The irony is played out again when Brünnhilde begins to form an idea of what happened to her father Wotan and what the real meaning of the ring is. The gods have fallen silent.
“If she only gave the ring back to the river girls, the world and the gods would be freed from their curse.” Instead, she vows never to give up and hold onto love. Let Valhalla collapse.
The meaning of this dynamic scene here is how Brünnhilde really became mortal, devoid of god-like powers. The flute gets stuck in all the massive strings, fire torches, smoke rises and Siegfried’s horn call appears in the midst of everything. Instead of loyalty there is human betrayal and the beginning of human awareness of their destiny. “Who am I?” Asks Brünnhilde and Siegfried too.
Who am I? Who are we?
Files two and three go out of their way to show them – and we are reaping the emotional and moral fall. Zambello shows Hagen’s dream of Alberich, his father, with careful instructions: “Are you sleeping, my son?” He repeats it several times, hoping to “wake” him out of his partial awareness of how much cunning to use to get the ring for himself. Is that what ultimately leads Hagen to kill Siegfried? Brünnhilde’s revelation of Siegfried’s vulnerability behind him, coupled with his father’s message, makes him more of a devil than even his father, Alberich-cum-monster. The appearance of “his men”, the San Francisco Chorus, the first time the chorus appears in this tetralogy, goes a long way towards strengthening his position and emphasizing the duality that Wagner intends at this point in his text.
We lose Siegfried, but we observe how Brünnhilde embodies her own self-control, and we grow with her to an area that Wagner considers more error-free. Siegfrieds Tod – the original musical composition that Wagner created from The Ring – and love as it lived it, ie with Siegfried, is a fool’s game; there is something more.
“I gave Siegfried all of my knowledge.” And so we ask ourselves, what else is there? One thing is that it cannot be prey in any form. Theorin does an extraordinary job here, moving from place to place on stage with natural ease and showing her rapidly changing emotions with changing facial and body expressions. Her cry to the gods about how she suffers came through with strong conviction, just as Brenna’s painful awareness radiates from him as he dies. The two convince with their art of singing and playing; We remain ecstatic and empowered by their heightened awareness of who they actually are. Your past expressions of love are a light touch compared to these moving expressions.
Sir Donald Runnicles reinforces this recognition with the richness of the percussion and zambello by keeping the stage dark. The whole earth then appears in projection, starting from the bottom right and then top left, reminding us to keep a close eye on the larger view of the opera: this is not just a personal search, but a more universal one. In addition, Zambello ensures that we see the complementarity on earth when Brünnhilde and Gutrune embrace. We are on the way from a destructive male world to a positive embrace of people, especially here, women, even if they were played off as rivals. It is earthbound and the best on earth and in the entire universe at the same time.
This precedes the burnt offering scene in which Theorin and the entire cast come together in a joint gesture. Brünnhilde prepares the fire not only for herself, but at least symbolically for everyone. The music here, as in the entire opera, never stops, but for half a second of silence. It is a huge sound plate on which life is imprinted and expressed. When Brünnhilde turns to Wotan before her death, she declares with great confidence that she understands what happened to her: “He had to betray me so that I would become wise.” In other words, she has grown, she has appeared, it has developed into what Wagner says we must if there is to be love and universal order. Here Theorin sang with a suitable pianissimo, while the motif “Woe, woe” caught our ears in the background.
Peace now, rest, that’s what comes out of all of this conflict and anger. The earth and all of its elements sink back into order when they bring the ring back to the Rhine. Order is restored. The final moments when a young girl comes on stage to plant a young tree is a beautiful blow of affirmation. We are apparently being told, “Take what you want from my ashes, we will draw what we can from this enormous expression of human greed, lust for power and deceit and what it brings us in terms of the possibility of an alternative.”
The lighting of the fire sets the whole event in a bright, enlightening light.