The opening night of Götterdämmerung—the fourth and final section of Richard Wagner's The Ring—was a triumph for the Liceu. For five hours and fifteen minutes, the audience were transfixed and, at the end, the theatre exploded with enthusiasm. Barcelona has a sizeable population of Wagner lovers, and tonight it served them with élan. Talk about a climax... After approximately sixteen hours of tribulation and agony, composer Josep Pons, solidly aided by both singers and orchestra, brought this masterpiece to its apocalyptic conclusion.
The performances were all solid, but Pons, as well as Iréne Theorin as Brunnhilde, were exceptional. I have learned over the years to expect perfection from Theorin, with her exquisite and perfectly controlled voice, her low-key but convincing acting and, in this instance, her grace in carrying off an extremely ugly dress. With regard to Pons, I honestly hadn’t expected him to do such an accomplished job with the orchestra. In the past I have often found his conducting to be pedestrian, but tonight he excelled himself. Rightly or wrongly, I think he was exactly what the composer would have wanted, and he brought the orchestra with him all the way. Even the often fractious brass was clear and in total control throughout.
The cast were, in general, on top form. Hans Peter Koenig, who was sidelined by laryngitis, would have been sorely missed as the malevolent Hagen, had the ever-terrific Eric Halfvarson not ably jumped into the role. It was a thrill to see him as someone other than the Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlos, a role he has made his own for several years. Hagen was both in great voice and a convincing personification of evil. Samuel Youn did excellently in the less dramatically gratifying role of Gunther, Hagen's decent yet stupid and malleable sibling. Their sister Gutrune, used as pawn in their cruel game, was sung by Jacquelyn Wagner in a lighter than expected voice, but nonetheless pleasing. She was also a standout as the Third Norn.
The disappointment, unfortunately, was Lance Ryan, whose voice simply does not have the necessary heft for the role of Siegfried. It is a pleasant and correct voice but not Wagnerian. He excelled as an actor, however, and presented a Siegfried that I recognised instantly: decent, well-intentioned and exceedingly dumb. Why Wagner felt it appropriate to make his "held" (his superhero) quite so stupid, only Wagner knows. However, if ever a man made the worst calls in every situation, he was it—and Ryan characterised him to perfection.
The lesser parts were well covered, as the three Norns (Christina Faus, Pilar Vázquez and Jacquelyn Wagner) and the Rhinemaidens (Isabella Gaudí, Anna Alàs i Jové and Marina Pinchuk) all contributed generously to the pleasure of the evening. At times, I thought the singers had to struggle to compete with the orchestra, but this may have been a seating problem. I was sat right behind the brass section, and in that position it is hard not to find them dominant!
This being round four of Robert Carsen's vision of The Ring, I had grown accustomed to an interpretation that horrified me when the curtain went up on Das Rheingold four years ago. I still would not choose such ugliness and mixed metaphors (soldiers with rifles while simpleminded Siegfried runs around with his trusty sword!), but it seemed less disruptive this time round.
A super long review for a super long evening. Thank you, Liceu.
Performances of Götterdämmerung continue until March 19th, and it is not to be missed if you are a Wagner lover. Also not to be missed is the single performance of George Benjamin's Written on Skin, which has been garnering praise and attention wherever it has debuted. March 16th is your only chance.
The Liceu’s next major production is an old faithful. Verdi's Simon Boccanegra will be running from April 12th-29th, and the title role will be shared by three solidly excellent Verdians: Plácido Domingo, Leo Nucci and Giovanni Meoni. No losers there.