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on 18 July 2009
Despite my strong aversion to Regietheater's controversial concepts, I find Konwitschny's sensible direction of 'Gotterdammerung' (my favourite 'Ring' opera) quite absorbing as a modern-dress staging. The primitive innocence of Siegfried (finely sung and acted by Bonnema) is underlined through his idyllic Tarzan costume: later, the scheming Gibichungs dress him up in a 'civilized' suit. DeVol's chubby Brunnhilde, contrary to what detractors think, suggests an equally naive character, a fairy-tale bride who is content as a housewife in her simple dwelling with a dining-table, chairs, food, drink and flowers (the curtain in the background projects a sylvan landscape), and who (in due course) is victimized by a corrupt world that humiliates her (in Act 2 she enters with hands tied with the long rope dragged by Gunther): though 60 at the time, DeVol possesses a surprisingly indefatigable voice whose tiny vibrato is acceptable to my ears (I'm a fan of Jones and Marton, if you know what I mean!). Special praise goes to Iturralde: the most distinguished male soloist here, he sings a melliflous (bel-canto-ish!) Gunther. The best female member of the cast is Westbroek, a swooningly beautiful Gutrune, both vocally and physically. Despite his brief appearance, Kapellmann's menacing Alberich is no less outstanding (he's a magnificent 'Rheingold' Alberich on the Dohnanyi Decca recording); to some extent, this is also true of the Hagen of Bracht: visually, their duet is the most spine-chilling scene in this production (the nibelung, who dies in his son's arms, is a hunchback with abnormally long fingers and big feet, wearing black shoes and a large white robe - Hagen covers his dead father with the white sheet worn on the latter's shoulder - his 'reduced' stature evoking a deformed dwarf). Vaughn, a black mezzo (chubbier than DeVol), performs a moving angst-ridden Waltraute. The Norns (bag ladies) and Rhinemaidens (glamorous models? pop/movie stars?) are very good trios (Collins, who doubles as the First Norn and Flosshilde, is slightly wobbly in the former role). Zagrosek draws gorgeous sounds from his orchestra: you might (as I did) come across new things that you've never heard before while listening to other recordings of this opera. The Gibichung chorus performs excitingly, especially in Hagen's aria, another memorable highlight. That Konwitschny dispenses with the epic nature of 'Gotterdammerung' is an advantage, since the action takes place on an intimate stage with a small rotating set, bringing the events so close to the audience that they become a part of the performance: the cameras register their reaction, as when most of them discover that the Norns (bag ladies whom they might have met in the streets before their arrival at the theatre) are already on the stage (nearly 5 minutes before the start of the music), and also when the house lights are suddenly switched on soon after Hagen's attempt to wrench the ring from Siegfried's finger, then Brunnhilde (having sent all characters, including Siegfried, off-stage with forget-and-forgive gestures) addresses her peroration to the audience directly, not unlike an Elizabethan 'epilogue' character speaking to a public-theatre audience, complementing the Norns, who are no more than 'prologue' roles; during the concluding moments, the cameras again focus on the audience, some listening with closed eyes while the final stage directions (rather than acted out) are being projected on a black screen. I wish the whole cycle were directed by Konwitschny: the previous instalments of this multi-directed 'Ring' are below standard, compared to this one, which I recommend not only to hardcore Wagnerians who would like to try something different but also to newcomers looking for a light-hearted (though not entirely farcical) staging. An audio version of the performance exists on Naxos, but (the overall vocal quality not being satisfactory for some, if not many, listeners) it may not be as enjoyable as when experienced in sound and vision simultaneously.
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The four parts of the 1999 Ring from Staatsoper Stuttgart were assigned to different Directors and casts, each music drama to be treated as a separate entity.

Gotterdammerung opens as the audience arrives and before the orchestra starts playing as three bag women (the Norns) assemble on the stage in front of a black screen of black plastic bin liners that we later learn is the side of the multipurpose set, a wood framed hall with a stage at one end used by a theatrical company. This is a very effective start, and a nice change from the Norns usual gloomy presence.

If only the director Peter Kinwitschny had kept to the very successful modern dress concept of Act 1 this could have been an absorbing finale to the Stuttgart Ring.

However Siegfried (Albert Bonnema) is perceived as a figure of fun, completely devoid of any heroic characteristics, exemplified in the absurd Tarzan leotard and behaviour in the Prologue, and the drama always falters when he is on stage, and on occasions descends into farce.

Brunnhilde's (Luana DeVol) immolation is very effectively sung on an empty stage in a red two piece costume, and during the final music Wagner's totally impractical, but very relevant, stage instructions are projected on a black screen. Unlike some people I do not see this as a cop-out, how often does one think of Wagner's true intention as we listen to the final bars of Gotterdammerung.

Luano DeVol sings a good Brunnhilde, the rest of the siniging is good provincial and the usual fine orchestral support from Lagrosek, acknowledged by the entire orchestra on stage for the final bows.

Stuttgart gives us a very challenging ring, with the inevitable highs and lows associated with a high risk strategy. I suggest renting before buying.
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