While there are undoubtedly critical elements that it's important to get right in the earlier parts of the tetraology, it's Götterdämmerung that is ultimately the real test of any Ring cycle. After the years of hard work preparation that go into putting on a work of this scale, it has to come together meaningfullly at the end. It really wouldn't do if the epic end of the world finale of Götterdämmerung proved to be anticlimatic. The La Scala production is certainly unconventional in how it presents that all-important conclusion, but I don't think anyone could say that it is anything but bold and deeply impressive.
There is at least one important aspect to the La Scala Ring that has remained consistent and left no cause for concern about how the final segment would play out, and that's Daniel Barenboim's contribution. The sheer scale and ambition of Wagner's masterwork means that Götterdämmerung has to bring together all the earlier themes and leitmotifs the earlier works and bear the conceptual weight of the Ring as a whole. It's an enormous musical challenge, but Barenboim has been remarkably consistent and adaptable to Guy Cassiers' concept and he conducts the orchestra of La Scala through the varied tones of this particular work with a beautiful fluidity and a rising sense of urgency. It feels of a whole in a way that Götterdämmerung rarely does, consolidating those elements elaborated in the earlier parts into something much grander than their constituent parts.
There has also been a strong consistency to the look and feel of Guy Cassiers' production design, even if any deeper meaning or significance has been hard to determine. The source of certain imagery that has cropped up regularly throughout the cycle however is revealed here - in all its glory at the finale - to have been inspired by Jef Lambeaux's relief sculpture 'Les passions humaines'. This certainly gives substance to imagery and the ideas the director has been working with and leads to an immensely powerful conclusion, finding a strong visual concept that supports and illustrates Wagner's music and ideas, even if it doesn't add anything new to our understanding of the meaning of Der Ring des Nibelungen. In itself it's also a stunning state-of-the-art visual spectacle that has the look and conceptual qualities of an art installation. In that environment, there's inevitably an awful lot of standing and declaiming out to the theatre and very little interaction or dramatic interplay between the characters, but with Barenboim conducting this is every bit as "momumental" as Götterdämmerung ought to be.
Sadly here we lose Nina Stemme, who made such an impression as Brünnhilde in Die Walkure and Siegfried, but Irène Theorin proves to be a more than worthy replacement. She's perhaps not as strong across at the lower end of the range, but her top notes hit home in a performance that is full of fire. Just about passable in Siegfried, Lance Ryan's weaknesses are however cruelly exposed in the more open and testing environment of Götterdämmerung. His delivery is sometimes good, particularly in shorter phrasing, but any long notes waver around wildly. I'm not sure that there are many heldentenors around nowadays though who are capable of holding down this role, and at least he appears fully engaged in the role. Mikhail Petrenko sings Hagen well, although his delivery is a little too Russian in declamation. The other roles are more than competently played by a strong cast that includes Gerd Grochowski, Johannes Martin Kränzle (as a disturbingly distorted version of his already sinister Alberich), Waltraud Meier and Anna Samuil.
A four hour forty-five minute performance is a lot to get onto a single disk, even a BD50 Blu-ray, but the image and sound quality hold up alongside the fine presentation of the other releases in this cycle. Like those, the BD is region-free, with subtitles in German, English, French, Spanish, Italian and Korean. These can only be selected from the player remote or from the 'Pop-up' menu during playback. There's no synopsis in the booklet, just a fanciful essay that unconvincingly attempts to link Götterdämmerung with Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and with the Belgian Congo. It does however provide that useful information about Jef Lambeaux's 'Les passions humaines' sculpture, which might otherwise not be recognised. Its significance however can fully be felt in this powerful conclusion to an intriguing Ring cycle.
Arthaus should have released this Ring in a box set, instead of individual parts of this Ring cycle. For then right from the start, we may have come to terms with the director's Cassiers vision. However, from the Rhinegold booklet, we learn that Chereau's vision was of Germany from 1870-1930, the Unification of Germany, to the late Weimar republic, and the rise of Nazism. He forgot to mention, the changes in Bayreuth. The 1976 generation experienced that Ring as the past which had gone, but for which they were partly responsible. However, as Chereau insisted that historical realities be recognised in Wagner's Ring, so does Cassiers, but not just Germany's past; for his takes place in the now, our own present day global world. The present, every present is satuated with the past, we cannot get away from it. So 2013 is influenced by 1870. The present, future and past are locked together.
Then the director follows Schopenhauerian philosophy, where the world is evil and tragic, so simply ignore it like a mystic. We are driven by will, which is unseen and unknown, but the world is a physical manifestation of it. Wagner had read in 1854, the philosophers book, "The world as will and representation", in the middle of writing the music of Die Walkure, and it changed him forever. This was not the case, that this book confirmed the views he always held. Thomas Mann states "it was the great event of his life, even more then Feuerbach" Whose Philosophy states, Man created God or Gods; let there be the Love of Man, instead of the Love of God. Now Wagner had turned to a tragic philosophy, which is often down played, because there is lack of knowledge about Schopenhauer's ideas. If you wish to discover more about Feuerbach and Schopenhauer, read Bryan Magee's paperback, Wagner and Philosophy. The book is not heavy going, it is easy to read. See my review.
However, Wagner left Siegfried under a tree, and wrote Tristan und Isolde, then Die Meistersingers, to come to grips with this new philosophy. But he was still left with a Feuerbachian opera. Wagner did change the ending, which is basically Schopenhaurian, with a nod to Eastern ideas, which that philosopher knew of, and this inspired the composer. Wagner is never straight forward. Here Cassiers does not follow Wagner's ideas, but even so he comes unstuck, he does not understand the ideas he has discussed. But I will follow his mind set, so you understand what is going on in the opera.
Gold drives the greed and violence. Also,the Ring explores desire, or rather human will to use the Schopenhaurian word. So at the end of Gotterdammerung we view the entire sculptural freeze, created by Jef Lambeaux, the Antwerp born artist commissioned by King Leopold the second, of Belgium in 1881. The finished product was to be placed in a pavillon in Brussels. The result was Les Passions humaines. The work depicts human bodies interwined in poses suggestive of erotic bliss and physical torture, love and death. It also suggests scenes of war, rape and suicide. Audiences in Berlin and Milan have seen the freeze, or abstracted versions of it from Das Rhinegold second scene onwards. Then the freeze projected the panoramic world view from Valhalla, a landscape of mountain vistas combined with a distinct veneer of envionmental degradation. In Die Walkure and Siegfried the frieze has reappeared both in vertical fragments and in its entireity. The freeze is rather like Wagner's leitmotiv's, shown throughout this Ring cycle. And may have been inspired by King Leopold who with the explorer Stanley's help, had claimed and built a colonial empire in the Congo, enabled by the enslavement and abuse of the indigenous population. Which generated the global trade of Ivory and rubber. Thus the violence in the freeze takes on a specific reference to the enslavement of Africa that accompanied the global modernization of the 19th century.
Nothing has changed today via the global economy; cheap labour in poor countries that feeds a desire for cheap clothes and labourers in the West and elsewhere; also greedy Wall street and banks that caused a collapse of the economy. War in the name of liberating a country, when oil was the real reason. A mad rush to materialism and superficial values at the expense of others and the environment, using modern technology that brainwashes its own people, so the few can thrive in luxury. Don't forget war and the rumour of War. Nothing has changed. The basic human value system is the same as that in 1870. So at the end of Gotterdammerung is that beautiful theme from Act 3, sung by Sieglinde to Brunnhilde. But Chereau handles this situation, by having the chorus silently looking at us; which means, which direction do we take? With Cassiers, this theme offers no hope, for it is reduced to simply that, a beautiful superfical emptyness. Alberich, the Rhinemaidens and the people, are left to repeat the same Ring Journey again. As in the Congo, so today, throughout the world, and for all time, is a tragic, evil Schopenhauerian bleakness. Hagen sums up this mentality.
Unfortunately, it took a while to work Cassiers ideas out, for the author of the articles, Steinberg, writes in a manner that is for Academia, not for opera lovers. However, the eternal manipulations are there in this mythic Ring. Steinberg writes about Gotterdammerung, that the Gods are doomed by their interaction with humans. There is no Valhalla to return to, as Valhalla has been fatally compromised by its interaction with the lower world. Thus, Cassiers has turned this Cycle into a illustration of Schopenhauer's philosophy, without intending to. To further understand myth and its effect upon us, I suggest you might like to view the DVD, the Power of Myth, with Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers. Read my review.
You may notice that the Rhine Maidens, Brunnhilde and Gutrune wear 1870's dresses, and the chorus, the type of clothes the men wore in Germany when they fought duels. That is the past. In Siegfried,and now Gotterdammerung, Siegfried wears leather gear, to remind us this is about today as well. In Die Walkure, the spinning disc represents the world, and eternal suffering humanity. In Rhinegold, the two Giants wear modern suits and there is equipment of today in one scene. In Gotterdammerung and the other operas, the dresses and clothes are mainly of the 1870's. Many of the special effects are there also to remind us of the present and future. In Die Walkure and Siegfried, the red cords hanging down are the future. They are to remind you of the rope of destiny, woven by the three Norns in this opera.
When Siegfried becomes Gunther,so as to take the ring off Brunnhildes finger, he is surrounded by dancers. That means he is invisible. When he leaves the boat, so do the dancers. They represent Siegfrieds state of mind, befuddled by the potion. When Brunnhilde throws her self into the flames, which are seen on the screen, a picture of the horse Grane appears. The crowd looks at the the original freeze, as if to say, nothing changes, humanity will carry on as before. To sum up, as Cassiers states, we live on the surface of history, plus the culture and memory. Also, this opera is very traditional, in scenery, dress and staging.
I have loved the staging and the mainly traditional costumes throughout the four operas, for they are extremely subtle. The conducting by Barenboim of the La Scala Orchestra is superb. A very Italian sound. He knows the score inside out, and can pace himself and see the overall picture. In Gotterdammerung, Siegfried, Lance Ryan, is quite good once he warms up. Gunther Gerd Grochowski is right inside the part. Alberich Johannes Martin Kranzle, makes the part his own. Hagen Mikhail Petrenko, he would be on my list as a top Hagen. Brunnhilde Irene Theorin, one of the two great Brunnhildes, the other is Nina Stemme. Irene Theorin took the main part in the Copenhagen Ring, recorded 2006. Waltraute Waltraud Meier. Gutrune Anna Samull, one of the better Gutrune's. All the cast is good. A co production with Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin, in collaboration with Toneelhuis Antwerp-hence the freeze and Leopold the second. I really think this Ring cycle is worth while owning. These opera's certainly are original.They made me think as I have explained.
We have had three Wotans: Rene Pape, Vitalij Kowaljow and Terje Stensvold, Fricka:Doris Stoffel and then Ekaterina Gubanova.Two Brunnhildes: Nina Stemme and Irene Theorin. I liked the changes, we got to see and hear,the three best Wotan's today. And the two greatest Brunnhildes currently singing. I have 11 DVD's of the Ring, and sometimes there are changes. I do not think we can blame the dates of the operas for the three Wotans. Das Rheingold 26th May 2010, Die Walkure, 7 December 2010. Siegfried, October 20th 2012, Gotterdammerung June 2013. The Met Ring: Das Rheingold October 9th 2010, Die Walkure May 14th 2011, Siegfried November 5, 2011, Gotterdammerung February 11, 2012. They kept all the cast except one Rhinemaiden. Valencia Ring: Das Rhinegold April/May 2007, Die Walkure April/May 2007, Siegfried June 2008 and June 2009, Gotterdammerung June 2009. Changes to Erda and Flosshilde. Lubeck Ring recorded Sept 2010. Loses a good Siegfried, for a substandard one in Gotterdammerung. The Copenhagen Ring loses a lousy Wotan and gains American James Johnson in Die Walkure and Siegfried, one of the great Wotan's of today, along with the other three.
You may like the Bluray, "The World of the Ring". A documentary in 4 parts by Eric Schultz. Thielemann conducts excerpts from the Ring Cycle, then a journalist asks questions of him and she explains the libretto Act by Act. A pianist illustrates certain parts of the Ring. We have two musicologists, a literary Scholar, writer and a political scientist. They explain Wagner's life and how the Ring effects people today. It is not boring, or else I would say so. This bluray is for Ring fanactics like me, or those new to it,and would like to know more. Read my review.
Do not forget to press pop up menu. Then chapters, Audio and languages appear. Point the remote at the last on the list and press button in the middle of the four arrows. Press pop up menu again and the details go away.
PCM Stereo. DTS HD Master Audio 5.1. Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, italian, Korean. 16.9. REGION Worldwide. 10801. Good sound and Picture. Booklet with the very academic essay.