Over the past year, German director Dieter Dorn has unveiled his new production of Wagner’s “Ring of the Nibelungs”, created for the Grand Théâtre de Genève.
I was able to schedule the final performance of the final opera of the cycle, “Götterdämmerung”, which gave me insight into Dorn’s realization of Wagner’s gargantuan work.
[Below: German director Dieter Dorn; edited image of a photograph from credit-suisse.com.]
The most productive period of Dorn’s theatrical career was based in Munich, including the first decade of the 21st century at its Bayerische Staatsoper.
Known for instilling in his actors a reverence for the words of the drama, Dorn works with his opera singer-actors to create theatrically effective characterizations.
Even sitting in the sixth row center of the Grand Théâtre’s orchestra section, I found myself using opera glasses throughout the performance to appreciate fully the facial expressions accompanying each character’s intonation of the words of Wagner’s text.
Dorn, in collaboration with his long-time set designer Jürgen Rose, has created specific images for the parts of the Rose-Dorn Ringworld that are envisioned in “Götterdämmerung”,
Figures dressed in black like Japanese theater koken move stage elements. First we see the world of the fate-weaving Norns (Eva Vogel, Diana Axentii and Julienne Walker).
The koken then rearrange the Norn rocks and add a wall of red material representing the Magic Fire, to create the rock on (actually, under) which Brünnhilde and Siegfried have their first experiences with erotic passion, and to which Waltraute, the distressed escapee from Valhalla, comes to reason with her love-struck sister.
[Below: Hagen (Jeremy Milner, front left center, calls for the Gibichung vassals (gathered in light box) to build sacrifices for the gods (represented by totems at far left); edited image, based on a Carole Parodi photograph, courtesy of the Grand Théâtre de Genève.]
The Rhine Maidens frolic in the koken-induced gray material that represents the flowing River (and which will later consume the immolated bodies of Siegfried, Brünnhilde, and their horse Grane, and the drowned Hagen).
The Gibichung Hall is a parallelogram-shaped light-box, whose rear walls can change positions or disappear entirely, like the rooms of a Japanese house.
Outside the Gibichung Hall are totems of the five reigning Valhalla gods (Wotan, Fricka, Donner, Froh and Freia). The Wotan totem will be kicked over by a malevolent Alberich and smashed by an angry Brünnhilde.
Petra Lang’s Brünnhilde
The cast assembled by Dorn and the Grand Théâtre were uniformly excellent.
In “Götterdämmerung”, however, Wagner has written such a rich part, dramatically, vocally and melodically, that the most vivid impressions are most likely to be left by any Brünnhilde of more than routine interest.
Here Petra Lang, whose work in such Wagnerian roles as Ortrud in “Lohengrin” and Venus in “Tannhäuser “, I have admired over the years, proved to be a dominant presence.
[Below: Dramatic soprano Petra Lang, resized image of a publicity photograph, courtesy of Peter Dingens.]
John Daszak’s Siegfriend
British heldentenor John Daszak had the vocal power and stamina to survive this outsized role.
Daszak also brought to the table a sublety of performance and acting ability that one must have in a Dieter Dorn project.
[Below: Siegfried (John Daszak, left) and Brünnhilde (Petra Lang, right) discover love on Brünnhilde’s rock in the third act of “Siegfried”; edited image of a Carole Parodi photograph, courtesy of the Grand Théâtre de Genève.]
Jeremy Milner’s Hagen and John Lundgren’s Alberich
The father and son team of Alberich (Swedish baritone John Lundgren) and Hagen (American bass Jeremy Milner) proved always to be the sinister antagonists to the fraying strategems of the forces of good.
Alberich’s appearance in “Götterdämmerung” lasts but a few minutes, but a strongly etched characterization can leave an indelible impression on the audience.
One will have to go far to surpass Lundgren’s physicially, vocally domineering presence, slithering from the depths below to chide his son to devote his life to Siegfried’s destruction and the recovery of the Ring – after all, the only purpose for which the scheming Alberich would bother to father a child.
If Alberich has but moments to make his case in the longest opera of the core repertory, his progeny Hagen is the reigning force of evil in all three acts.
Milner proved to be a superb Hagen, confirming the prediction I made of his career path of the base-baritone from Tulsa, Oklahoma, after observing him in a small part in Puccini’s Gold Rush opera [See A Second Look: Nicola Luisotti, San Francisco Opera, Champions of “Fanciulla del West” – June 27, 2010.]
To quote my “Girl of the Golden West” review, “Jeremy Milner as the American Indian Billy Jackrabbit [was] sufficiently impressive to remind one that an artist in a small role at San Francisco Opera often turns out to be a major star a few years later.”
Vocally rich throughout Hagen’s range, Milner must be considered as among the first rank of Wagnerian bassos.
Other Cast Members
Johannes Martin Kränzle and Edith Haller played the Gibichung siblings, Gunther and Gutrune, with dignity and the sympathy their deceived characters deserve.
Mezzo-soprano Michelle Breedt, brought the skills she used in interpreting the complex character of Weinberg’s Liese [see An Impressive Production for Weinberg’s Holocaust-Themed “The Passenger” – Houston Grand Opera, January 25, 2014] to Waltraute, whose words of wisdom do not yet sink into Brünnhilde’s distracted head.
Stephanie Lauricella, Polina Pasztircsak and Laura Nykämem were the Rhine Maidens.
Ingo Metzmacher, was conductor and musical director of Dorn’s enterprise.
[Below: Brünnhilde (Petra Lang, center) holds the representation of her horse, Grane, next to the body of Siegfried (John Daszak, on funeral bier) prior to their immolation; edited image, based on a Carole Parodi photograph, courtesy of the Grand Théâtre de Genève.]
Judging a “Ring” by its “Götterdämmerung”
Since I first began posting live performance reviews on this website, I have reviewed “Götterdämmerung” six times.
This includes Gergiev’s “Ring” on tour from Saint Petersburg in California [See Mariinsky “Götterdämmerung” in Orange County – ‘Hehrstes Wunder’ October 11, 2006] and the perfromances of Stephen Wadsworth’s “Green Ring” in Seattle in both its 2009 [Astonishing End to Seattle Opera’s “Götterdämmerung” – August 14, 2009] and 2013 mountings [World Treasure: Seattle Opera’s Gripping and Glorious “Götterdämmerung” – August 9, 2013].
It also includes those occasions in which I had reported previously on the mountings of the first three “Ring” operas in the process of creating a new “Ring”, and was attending the first performance of “Götterdämmerung” [see Standing Ovations for Achim Freyer, James Conlon, Cast of “Götterdämmerung” – Los Angeles Opera, April 3, 2010] and [Glorious “Götterdämmerung”: Nina Stemme Glistens – San Francisco Opera, June 5, 2011] and [“Götterdämmerung”: Strong Finish to the First Zambello “Ring” – San Francisco Opera, June 19, 2011“.]
The cycles of Grand Théâtre de Genève’s Dieter Dorn conceptualization of Wagner’s “Ring of the Nibelungs” has been completed for the 2014-15 season. On the basis of my observation of this single performance, I found Dorn’s interpretation of the “Ring” saga to be insightful and reverential of the great work.
I recommend that those who appreciate Wagner, seek out future performances of the Dieter Dorn “Ring”.