Ring Cycle: Gotterdammerung review (Arts Centre, Melbourne)

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And so the rule of the gods ends. After 22 hours in the theatre spread over four nights, Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen has wound to its climax. Everyone —  performers and audience alike – has been through a remarkable journey. Such is the persistence of sound, image and persistence, that many of us will feel we are still moving through it. The immersion was total.
Gotterdammerung is the mighty closure, an hour longer than the longest opera which came before it. We entered the theatre at 4 pm, leaving at 11 pm after a rapturous standing ovation which left no doubt how the most important critics – the paying audience — felt about it.
The first act prologue opened with a stunningly beautiful curtain mapping the world, with the Norns, daughters of the Earth goddess Erda, spinning its fate. They were a secure trio, led by long-time favourite Elizabeth Campbell. We moved from the sisters to an earthly court ruled, it seemed by King Gunther, though his malicious half-brother Hagen (fathered by the evil dwarf Alberich) is the true power, weaving poisonous intrigues. Yes, it all sounds rather silly, but on stage it seemed just too believable.
This in fact is the strength of the cycle as an entirety. Think what you may of individual acts within the works, and whether they worked individually or not. There were a couple of acts whose setting I disliked, such as the first act of Siegfried. But the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. This total production told Wagner’s tale with such precision and simplicity that its meaning rang true for initiate or neophyte alike.
In this second act of Gotterdammerung, Hagen plots and schemes how to gain the powerful Ring of the Nibelungens for himself and his father Alberich. Essential to his scheme is that he must, through a special potion, make Siegfried forget that he has won Brunnhilde as his warrior bride. Siegfried instead must win her again, but this time disguised as the weak King Gunther. As his reward, he will marry Gunther’s sister Gutrune.
Hagen, a towering, smooth suave villain, almost a Vincent Price on steroids, was colossal in presence and in voice. Bass baritone Daniel Sumegi was frighteningly effective in the role.
He would have dwarfed in presence many other singers, but found his match in our Siegfried, tenor Stefan Vinke. Hero and villain were ideal images of good and evil and Stefan Vinke’s helden-tenor was as resounding as Daniel Sumegi’s vocals of black power. As Brunnhilde, Susan Bullock was convincingly agonised and crazed at the sudden inexplicable betrayal by Siegfried, and was vocally most moving in the difficult long monologue at the opera’s close.
In that finale, Brunnhilde lights a funeral pyre for her dead Hero, who has been struck down by Hagen, and joins him in self-immolation. The pyre illuminates the entire stage as it reaches to Valhalla and wraps in its flames the old gods. We never see them in this final night, but are always aware of their presence, particularly of the now-old, feeble, perhaps suicidal Wotan.
This was a tremendous staging; no ordinary immolation. The dead hero Siegfried and his Brunnhilde were being united in a fiery celebratory wedding. Behind them, almost as if they were spectators at a wedding, was a mass of assembled humanity, linking the opening almost abstract human shapes which opened the first staged work Das Rheingold with the closing moments of the cycle.
There were special moments along this final journey, not least the appearance of Deborah Humble in particularly luscious voice as Brunnhilde’s Valkyrie sister Waltraute. The three Rhinemaidens, Lorina Gore, Jane Ede and Dominica Matthews, made their welcome reappearance to claim back the Ring of power, and their seductive powers were absolute, vocally and physically.
Director Neil Armfield and his design and production team joined singers for the final ovation, and in a finale which thrilled the audience, conductor Pietari Inkinen summoned from the pit all the 135 members of the augmented Orchestra Victoria. Throughout this cycle, Inkinen brought us consistently fine sound from the pit, whether hushed in solemnity or reverie, or blazing in splendour. It was good to see all the musicians, from stage and pit, united this way.
As so much of the world we inhabited over four evenings burnt around us,  it was fitting that in the shadows,  Warwick Fyfe’s dwarf Alberich (continuing his triumphal performance) was seen to slink safely from the stage, to scheme and plot in the shadows of another day. Isn’t it always the way? Heroes come, heroes go but malice inherits the world…
That’s what we think. Read what the other critics say.
[box]The Melbourne Ring Cycle plays the Arts Centre, Melbourne until 13 December. For more information about the Ring Cycle and the Ring Festival, visit[/box]

3 responses to “Ring Cycle: Gotterdammerung review (Arts Centre, Melbourne)

  1. The OA Chorus is one of the most amazing and finest opera choruses in the world. Not to include them in a review whenever they perform is disappointing.

  2. Really a mixed bag – some wonderful moments – singing particularly excellent – conducting for the most part wonderful but production is particularly Sydney centric – it is a real pity that this ‘Sydney Ring’ could not have been performed in the city it is culturally intended for – Perhaps one day Sydney will have an Opera House or at least a Lyric Theatre where they can perform their own creations of this magnitude – But I did have a good time – lived in Sydney for more than a decade!

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