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Wagner: Götterdämmerung / Treleaven, Struckmann, De Billy, et al

Wagner / Treleaven / Struckmann / Juon / De Billy
Release Date: 08/16/2005 
Label:  Opus Arte   Catalog #: 913  
Composer:  Richard Wagner
Performer:  Francisca BeaumontCristina ObregónDeborah PolaskiJulia Juon,   ... 
Conductor:  Bertrand De Billy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Barcelona Teatro Liceu Orchestra
Number of Discs: 3 
Low Stock: Currently 3 or fewer in stock. Usually ships in 24 hours, unless stock becomes depleted.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

3 DVD Set
Running time: 284 mins
Region Code: All regions
Picture format: 16:9 Anamorphic
Sound format: DTS Surround / LPCM Stereo
Menu languages: English
Subtitles: English/French/German/Spanish/Italian
Dimensions (mm): W135 H190 D25
Read more /> "With Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, the Liceu crowned the Ring cycle with complete success at all levels, beginning with Harry Kupfer’s clever production from Berlin. Bertrand de Billy, in his last performances as music director of the theatre, enjoyed a well-deserved personal triumph." -- OPERA, September 2004


The final installment of director Harry Kupfer’s second Ring —the first was a Bayreuth production in the late 1980s—completes his vision of the dramas as an object lesson on how humankind destroys itself as it destroys the natural world. (This cycle’s Rheingold , Walküre , and Siegfried were covered in Fanfare issues 29:1, 29:2, and 29:3, respectively.) The giant ash tree from which Wotan appropriated a branch to fashion his treaty-inscribed spear has progressively dwindled and very little remains when the curtain comes up on the Norns. Instead, the stage is stark with hard, cold metallic surfaces and features suggesting an impersonal and heartless technology—for instance, the radio transmitter beneath which Alberich and Hagen conspire at the start of act II. Siegfried and Brünnhilde play out their scene of domestic bliss in the first act on a set that suggests the interior of a clothes dryer.

In terms of vocalism, this Götterdämmerung doesn’t consistently hold up as well as the earlier works. Falk Struckmann was a compelling Wotan/Wanderer in the first three operas; Graham Clarke pretty much stole the show as Loge in Das Rheingold and one really hated to see him go as Siegfried ’s Mime . But John Treleaven has a voice that’s short on heft and color, while Deborah Polaski can sound hollow and a bit shrill when her part’s loud and high, which, of course, is often. Elisabete Matos is an undistinguished Gutrune. There is certainly a long tradition of singers performing more than a single role in the Ring : Hunding returning as Hagen (as Matti Salminen does here) or a giant, Valkyries doubling as Rhinemaidens or Norns, etc. But having Struckmann appear as Gunther just doesn’t work. Wotan may be a conflicted character, plagued by self-doubt, but he is not the debased Caspar Milquetoast we understand the leader of the Gibichungs to be. Though dressed as a foppish snoot—managing to evoke both Gomez Addams and Mel Brooks—Struckmann’s voice is too imposing, especially if one remembers him as the recently departed Father of Battles.

Best, by far, are the baddies, Günter von Kannen as Alberich and the magnificent Matti Salminen as his offspring, smoldering with hate for his half-brother and sister as much as for Siegfried. Needless to say, their scene together at the beginning of act II is a highlight, a powerful representation of proliferating evil. The three Rhinemaidens blend nicely, and Julia Juon is a desperately pleading Waltraute. The chorus is a thoroughly effective dramatic presence and there’s the crackling intensity of the best Verdi toward the end of the middle act.

The most telling theatrical touches come in act III, however. After Hagen murders Siegfried, during the funeral march we usually witness the hero being carried away, solemnly, on the shoulders of Hagen’s men. Here, the stage empties and Wotan makes an unauthorized (by Wagner) appearance to mournfully consider the situation, and to throw his broken spear into the river. Out of the darkness rises Brünnhilde to meet his gaze. This isn’t all that fanciful, actually, for Gutrune wonders, as she awaits the hunting party’s return, “Who was that woman I saw walking by the Rhine?”

The entire Ring is open to multiple interpretations but nothing is as ambiguous as the very end. Kupfer’s take is inspired and immensely satisfying—at least for those who see in Wagner’s work a glimmer of hope for humanity. For much of her final scene, Deborah Polaski sings with a firm tenderness, her finest moment in the three operas she’s been in. When the hall of the Gibichungs is swept away and the flames have consumed Valhalla, we find Alberich center-stage, having retrieved his ring and holding the prize at arms length to admire it in ecstatic triumph. Then, as the curtain descends, the ring crumbles in his hand, an event witnessed by two young children clutching onto a small, new sapling of an ash tree: the world has been reborn.

As with the rest of the cycle, Bertrand de Billy conducts with a sure hand. The Barcelona orchestra is mostly up to the task, though there are some occasional horn fluffs and some scraggly violin passagework, as during the Rhinemaidens’ scene at the outset of act III. Opus Arte’s surround mix is nominally 5.1, but there’s practically nothing in the center channel. Nevertheless, balances between stage and pit are excellent. Sound quality—vocal/instrumental timbres and detail—is better with the PCM stereo option (48 kHz/16-bit), not surprising, as this is a higher resolution format than DTS. The better your playback gear, the more likely you are to notice the difference. Video quality is good, despite a frequently limited visual palette and subdued lighting. Subtitles are offered in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, and, presumably because of the origin of the performance, Catalan.

So concludes a fascinating and ultimately successful Ring . Devotees can immediately spring for the whole shebang; those who are less certain can confidently start with this cycle’s Rheingold or Siegfried .

FANFARE: Andrew Quint
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Works on This Recording

Götterdämmerung by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Francisca Beaumont (Mezzo Soprano), Cristina Obregón (Soprano), Deborah Polaski (Soprano),
Julia Juon (Mezzo Soprano), Günter von Kannen (Bass), John Treleaven (Tenor),
Falk Struckmann (Baritone), Matti Salminen (Bass), Elisabete Matos (Mezzo Soprano),
Leandra Overmann (Mezzo Soprano), Maria Rodriguez (Soprano)
Conductor:  Bertrand De Billy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Barcelona Teatro Liceu Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1871-1874; Germany 

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