“Magnificent” Wagnerian opera returns to the Toronto stage
Canadian Opera Company’s current production of Götterdämmerung, the final installment of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, is a remount of their 2006 production. When I saw it 10 years ago, the modern reimagining of this epic legend, in which suited captains of industry stand in for Norse gods and demigods, did not grab me. I am not sure if it’s me or the times that have changed, but I was absolutely entranced by the current production.
The Ring Cycle is an epic legend in 4 parts, loosely based on Norse mythology. Alberich the dwarf fashions a ring of gold mined from the Rhine. The wearer of the ring has the power to rule the world, so Wotan, king of the gods, steals it. He gives it to the giants as payment for building Valhalla. Although the ring has been cursed by its rightful owner Alberich, Wotan’s quest to regain control of the ring spans generations, and a total of about 15 hours of opera.
Much of the drama in this retelling takes place in a board room. The quest to obtain the cursed ring at all costs becomes a clear metaphor for all-consuming greed that risks tearing apart the fabric of society to attain power. Götterdämmerung means “Twilight of the Gods” and the destruction wrought by an insatiable thirst for power by any means necessary is the main theme. Although the story is fantastical, this interpretation is far from escapist.
The themes of fire and destruction were reflected stylishly and thoughtfully in the production design. Somber gray and black hues were punctuated by blood red and metallic accents in the set, costume and lighting design.
Hard, sterile edges were a common element of the set and props. The large, rectangular board room table that appeared to consume the stage, was blatantly antithetical to the egalitarian “round table” archetype, and struck me as a clear symbol for hierarchy and domination. Performers stood on top of the table during some of the most intense scenes, further reinforcing the metaphor of dominance.
Suffice it to say, I did a lot of thinking during this show, but the delights of this performance were not exclusively or chiefly intellectual. The singers and orchestra worked together seamlessly to wring out every last drop of the over-the-top dramatic tension this work is known for. I was literally on the edge of my seat for over 5 hours–no small feat.
Christine Goerke is an indescribably gorgeous Brünnhilde. Her voice is hearty, warm, and rich with a shimmering vibrato. Each note seethed with larger-than-life emotion that made the listener a part of every scene. I sincerely hope she will be back at the COC in other roles.
Ain Anger’s interpretation of Hagen, Alberich’s son and the scheming antagonist of this portion of the story, was shrewd, ruthless, and calculating. Anger’s voice is quite bright for a baritone and he utilised its potential to sound cold and edgy effectively for this brand of villain.
Andreas Schager’s Siegfried used both voice and body language to portray the bravado, recklessness, and naivete that is this hero’s ultimate downfall.
I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during the team’s discussions about how to interpret this work, because the shared vision was palpable. The level of cohesion among the director, designer, cast, and orchestra was magnificent and made committing to a very long story effortless.
The music and singing are spectacular, and the social and political themes are timeless. A great show to provoke thought and entertain.
- Götterdämmerung is playing until February 25, 2017 at Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen Street West)
- Show times are 6:00 PM on February 8, 11, 14, & 17, with additional matinees at 2:00 PM on February 5 and 4:30 PM on February 25.
- Ticket prices range from $45 – $365. Patrons under 30 can purchase tickets for $22 or $35 here.
- Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-363-8231 (long distance 1-800-250-4653).
Photo of Ain Anger and chorus by Michael Cooper