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Selected Review


Opera

Götterdämmerung Opera North

Götterdämmerung Opera North

A complaint sometimes made by the regular opera attendee is that a production in which the original narrative context is transferred to an alternative historical, ethical or conceptual setting loses its heart. On the one hand, such a transfer might enable artistic comment on contemporary and topical current affairs.

On the other hand, the removal of the narrative from its original context assumes an audience's familiarity with the repertoire and can be exclusive and somewhat confusing. Opera North's Götterdämmerung landed on neutral territory and Wagner's sound world was allowed to shine with brilliance.

Opera North’s miraculous achievement in delivering Wagner’s take on the ‘end of the gods’ was one in which the music was the central focus. ON’s four-year dedication to the Ring Cycle has been a resounding success. We live locally in a world where the pantheistic projection of all facets of human nature has been reduced to the press narratives of celebrity culture and soap operas for many. Such a reduction from the divine to the human can signal either personal progression in recognising the same, or bare cynicism. For those assembled in Leeds town hall for this concert performance, an approximation to the former would seem, in part, a likely explanation for what was an extremely raucous level of appreciation. No ovation would have followed, however, without the musical marvel of the Orchestra of Opera North, which played the starring role. Exacting, measured and forceful of deep impact, this giant of an orchestra was sculpted under the graceful balance of Richard Farnes’ baton. In a score based entirely on leitmotivic precedent, the ever flowing and shifting chromaticism came across with neither turgidity nor any sense of being mechanistic: the right balance was struck throughout.

In an age in which cinema and television dominate in the artistic portrayal of human, natural and supernatural cataclysm and resolution, a stage version of Götterdämmerung would seem to compare inadequately to the broad brush strokes made possible from a computer-generated palate. Opera North has overcome the competition by focussing on the music and allowing the sonic element solely to depict events of enormity. The consumption of the land in fire, the bursting of the banks of the Rhine and the flood, Brunnhilde’s mounted ascent into Siegfried’s funeral pyre: the staged portrayal of these events might only narrowly avoid disappointment or even unintended comedy. This concert performance, which was attended by a multi-generational audience, made what is the finale to a transcendently archetypal synopsis an exercise in ceremony. The strong ceremonial quality was impressed by the modesty of the minimal costume design, the measured and nicely paced flow of representative physical gesture by the singers, and the use of large-scale visual display screens. The screens displayed the English translation of the libretto against an ethereal interplay of photographic and filmed images, elementally relevant to the narrative. In their use, a somewhat detached perspective might make a comparison between the fanaticism of Wagner lovers and that of an audience at a modern-day, cult-like rally. In long orchestral passages without singing, an opportunity to project animated representations of more specific detail relevant to the narrative was not taken.

Chorus work was shockingly penetrative for the coupling of immense force with pinpoint, synchronised accuracy. Their contribution was of short duration, but unforgettable. Alwyn Mellor's Brunnhilde was a a dramatic exemplar of one who gains wisdom via the agony of betrayal. Vocally this was expressed finely and convinced of the injustice felt. Initially, her upper register was slightly colder than the rest of the voice; this only occurred once. Mati Turi convinced of a highly appropriate sense of headstrong bloody-mindedness as Siegfried. Such came across with great force aurally.

Two soloists stood out from what was a highly commendable overall casting: Jo Pohlheim (Alberich) and Mats Almgren (Hagen). The blood ran cold at the coupling of bitterness with avarice detectable in Pohlheim's characterisation. The edge to this rich voice cut straight through the orchestral canvas and bounced around off the walls of the Victoria Hall. As a spectre, the associated tradition of unfinished business and the attendant sense of desperation was communicated bodily, vocally and through his gaze. Mats Almgren will not be forgotten for what was a masterclass in Stentorian authority. This lesson reached its peak at the point when he called the Gibichung clan to red alert. Otherwise, his characterisation was a model of total cynicism that might put fear into anyone engaged on a similar psychological course.

Daniel Potts

 

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