Wagner, Gotterdammerung, Blu-ray (2008/2009)
Stage Director: Michael Schulz
Starring: Norbert Schmittberg, Mario Hoff, Thomas Mowes, Catherine Foster, Renatus Meszar, Nadine Weissmann, Marietta Zumbult
Conducted by: Carl St. Clair, with the Orchestra of the Weimar State Opera
Studio: ArtHaus Musik 101 360 [Distributed by Naxos]
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 color, 1080i HD
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, PCM Stereo
Extras: Trailers of other ArtHaus productions
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish
Length: 277 minutes
Gotterdammerung is the final installment in this excellent 2008 production by the German National Theater and Weimar State Opera of Wagner’s masterwork Der Ring des Nibelungen, and the masterful and quirky performances we witnessed in the first three stanzas continue into the finale. The individual performances are again exceptional, and as in the recent offering of Siegfried, there’s a significant shuffling of roles among the principals; most notably this time around, Thomas Mowes reprises his role from Rheingold as Alberich, and Mario Hoff takes on the role of Gunther. Renatus Meszar is introduced as a menacing and mesmerizing Hagen, and Norbert Schmittberg offers a believably heroic Siegfried. And Catherine Foster yet again gives us a magnificent Brunnhilde; she shines brightly throughout this well-contemplated denouement to the Ring cycle. The previous post-modern and minimalist recipe concocted by stage director Michael Schulz continues, and while the overall impression is no less striking, this new Gotterdammerung has been stripped bare far beyond the previous three installments, with so very little occupying the stage that perhaps too much has been left to the imagination. Fortunately, the excellent musicianship of the Carl St. Clair-led Weimar State Opera Orchestra provides the necessary underpinning to help guide the adventurous Wagnerite through the four-plus hour length of this summation.
While most of the action throughout the entire Ring cycle is complicated, this offering of Gotterdamerung takes that complexity to the next level. It’s now clear that only Siegfried and Brunnhilde can break the curse of the ring that has been placed on Wotan and Alberich’s children and their offspring. The three Norns foretell of the downfall of the gods, who are powerless to affect any outcome and are therefore absent from the proceedings here. Siegfried leaves the Norns in search of new heroic deeds, but not before Brunnhilde covers him with protective runes. The action shifts to the royal court of the Gibichungs, the dwellers of the Rhineland. The two young royals, Gunther and Gutrune, are encouraged by their stepbrother Hagen (who also happens to be Alberich’s son) to take suitable mates. He suggests Brunnhilde (for Gunther) and Siegfried (for Gutrune). Hagen’s ultimate plan is to take the ring for himself, and through this deception hopes to acquire it from Brunnhilde.
Siegfried arrives at the Gibichung hall, and is given a magic potion; he immediately falls in love with Gutrune, and offers Brunnhilde to Gunther. Siegfried leaves disguised as Gunther, and claims Brunnhilde as his wife; she resists, but Siegfried overpowers her, and removes the ring from her hand and places it on his own. While half-asleep, Hagen is visited by his father Alberich, and he urges him to take the ring from Siegfried. Siegfried returns to the Gibichung hall with Gunther and Brunnhilde, in preparation for the wedding festivities. Brunnhilde is bewildered, and her accusations toward the still-drugged Siegfried are met with little resolve. In anger, she plots with Hagen and Gunther, and reveals to them Siegfried’s weak spot – an uncovered area on his back. Siegfried goes hunting, and encounters the Rhinemaidens, who make one last attempt to encourage the hero to return the ring to its rightful owners. Siegfried is still too deeply ensnared in Hagen’s web and cannot see the logic of their plea. Siegfried returns and is ultimately murdered by Hagen, and Brunnhilde, having learned the secret of breaking the ring’s curse from the Rhinemaidens, ultimately brings redemption to the world and an end to the era of the Gods.
As with the previous episodes, the image quality of this Blu-ray disc from ArtHaus Musik was truly magnificent, displaying excellent contrast and highly detailed images with deep blacks. Despite the minimalism of the stages and costuming throughout this production, colors were vividly and accurately presented, and there were no traces of any artifacting to be found. The sound was also superb; the DTS Master Audio 5.1 track provided an immersive and dynamic listening experience. While there were no bonus features, really – from a four-and-a-half hour presentation crammed onto a single BD-50 disc, what did you expect?
While some will surely harp that the sparse staging left too few visual cues to the onstage action, this is an impressive finale to the Ring cycle. The dynamic performances by the principals – Catherine Foster offers a powerhouse and lusty portrayal of Brunnhilde – and uniformly magnificent level of singing throughout makes this ArtHaus Ring on Blu-ray one for the ages. And the music here is to die for; Wagner’s leitmotif’s are so artfully crafted, and some of the finest music throughout the entire Ring takes place here, including “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey,” the moving and powerful “Trauermarsch” and of course, Brunnhilde’s “Immolation Scene.” Four stars – very highly recommended!
— Tom Gibbs