Monday 29 July 2013

Sensational singing Götterdämmerung Barenboim Prom Wagner

With this phenomenal  Prom 20 Götterdämmerung, Daniel Barenboim's traverse through Wagner's Ring reached its culmination. After the Prom, Barenboim spoke of the "communion" this journey has brought to performers and to the audience. Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin have upped the ante for all future performances with this ground-breaking interpretation. I will;never forget this experience. This Götterdämmerung felt like a historic moment.

 This  Götterdämmerung, was historic, too, because of the singers. Nina Stemme and Andreas Schager were making their high profile Proms debuts as Brünnhilde and Siegfried. Because the BBC Proms are broadcast internationally, there can be no greater exposure. But bear in mind, too, that that creates tremendous pressure. Nina Stemme is one of the greatest Isoldes of our time, and everyone was expecting miracles. Brünnhilde and Isolde may be sisters in spirit, but Brünnhilde is a very different prospect. She's a Valkyrie, a woman-warrior and the true hero of the entire Ring. On Brünnhilde all interpretations evolve. Stemme's Brünnhilde is feminine and surprisngly fragile. When she's led into the Hall of the Gibichungs, Stemme sings softly, showing how Brünnhilde is lost, for once, out of her depth ins a strange new environment. Stemme's Immolation Scene was magical. Standing in the organ loft, lit by ethereal light, Stemme delivered a performance that would put many others to shame. As the "flames" rose in the orchestra, Stemme expressed Brünnhilde's resolve and strength. Although Brünnhilde returns the ring to the Rhinemaidens and Valhalla and its values are destroyed, we can't really be sure what happens next. So no false sense of triumph, but rather valediction for what has passed. Stemme is still finding her way into the role, good as she was. One day, she'll be truly superb. We were hearing her Brünnhilde in germination, and have something good to remember.

The sensation of the evening was Andreas Schager. True Heldentenors are rare and a singer like this is rarer still. Schager's voice is full of natural colour and beauty, which he uses well, creating myriad nuances and shadings. His phrasing is intelligent, bringing out character and meaning.  In Wagner, it's not enough, ever, to sing words without meaning. Each time Schager sang, I felt that I was learning more about Siegfried than I'd fathomed before. Every  passage was individual, purposefully and beautifully expressed. Schager's voice is flexible, so he can do subtle changes of inflection without sacrificing line. He also has stamina. Though the part isn't a killer like that in Siegfried, it shouldn't pose problems. Schager has strong lungs but also strong technique. 

He can also act. He inhabits the part so intuitively that his body becomes an extension of his singing. His movements are instinctive and expressive.  Schager could not have had much coaching for the part since he only stepped into the Berlin production at short notice, and from what I've read, it was one devoid of Personenregie. When Schager moves, we remember that Siegfried grew up with animals in the forest, a true child of nature. Even when he dons a suit, Schager's agility suggests that the real Siegfried still lives within. The sheer joy and energy in Schager's singing makes us realize that, for Siegfried, everything is new and exciting. The interaction between Schager and Anna Samuil's Gutrune is fascinating. These two are natural partners, frisky and playful. If Siegfried had had a chance to grow up normally. he might have picked a Gutrune. Let's not forget, his love for Brünnhilde, though genuine, resulted from unusual circumstances. As even Brünnhilde sings, "Zu neuen Taten, teurer Helde, wie liebt' ich dich, ließ ich dich nicht?" The Journey Down the Rhine expresses the wonder of expansive new horizons. When Schager's Siegfried dies, it's like something in all of us dies, too.

Waltraud Meier, one of the great Kundrys, Isoldes and Sieglindes of all time, sang  Waltraute and the Second Norn.  Her dialogue with Stemme's Brünnhilde was touching. Waltraute acts as Brünnhilde's conscience. Her voice still carries authority. This Waltraute was no mere incident in proceedings, but a turning point, reminding Brünnhilde where her duty lay. 

Mikhail Petrenko's Hagen was intriguing, as original as Barenboim's approach to the opera itself. . Petrenko's voice is firm, but clear and bright for his fach.That's good, for it brings out Hagen's human qualities rather than a more "mythic" portrayal. Hagen's conflicted by his heritage. Alberich (Johannes Martin Kränzle) haunts him, but he's been brought up among the Gibichung.  Petrenko's consonants bite, suggesting inner pain. The relationship between Petrenko's Hagen and Schager's Siegfried is thus even more interesting, because they're both outsiders in an alien environment. Listen to the interaction between the voices. Petrenko listens and responds. He's not simply doing a star turn of his own.

Gerd Grochowski's Gunther felt fresh and modern too. The moments when Grochowski, Petrenko and Schager sang together were particularly impressive, each contributing something individual.The fervent cries of "Bruderschaft" are sincere. It's male bonding. Siegfried has never known what it's like to be in social situations. Growchowski's Gunther isn't weak, but an optimist. And Petrenko's sensitive, conflicted Hagen suggests that Hagen truly wants to be part of a group, at last. 

And the orchestra and conductor? I've run out of time, energy and superlatives.  Mark Berry will be reviewing this Prom for Opera Today. Read HERE.  

This Prom can be heard for 7 days on BBC I player. It will also be recorded. 

 Please also see my posts on the Proms Die Walkure, Siegfried and Tristan und Isolde .


Vecchio John said...

Not quite Stemme's role debut as I have heard her twice perform it on stage. Great as though those performances were, she excelled herself last night.

Doundou Tchil said...

Hello John ! OF course Stemme was good. It's not possible for her to be anything else. But she missed cues and forgot lines on Tuesday and was glued to the conductor on Friday. I think her best Brunnhildes are yet to come. We've so much to look forward to.