Opera Review: Götterdämmerung

I’m not much of a fan of opera. Never been much of a fan of musicals in general, although that is slowly changing. However, I do appreciate orchestral music, especially movie scores, which I suppose can be thought of as the operas of our times. Of the classical composers, Richard Wagner (to me) stands the tallest. His music is epic and very cinematic, a sign that he was ahead of his time. Of his operas, I know best the Nibelung Ring tetralogy, having listened to them all years ago over at a library while following the action with translated scripts. So when I saw a promo for a live HD broadcast of Götterdämmerung – the final installment in the Ring cycle – at the Metro Cinemas in Santurce, I just had to go.

No, it wasn’t the Metropolitan Opera House, but it was the next best thing.

First of all, a summary of the Ring cycle: there is a river (The Rhine). The Rhine has three maidens guarding the gold that lies in its depths. In comes a dwarf (Alberich), who manages to steal the gold and forge with it a ring of incredible power. But such a ring can only be forged by one who forfeits love, which of course Alberich does. At some point the gods get involved, the ring ends up in the hands (or claws?) of a dragon, the hero Siegfried kills… I’m sorry, slays the dragon, retrieves the ring, falls in love with a valkyrie named Brünhilde, is later tricked into winning Brünhilde (and the ring she now holds) for a king named Gunther, is betrayed (and murdered) by Gunther’s brother Hagen, Brünhilde tosses the ring into Siegfried’s funeral pyre, with her horse and herself following, the power of the gods wane and a new dawn of Man emerges.

Yes, I grossly oversimplified the plots of all four operas, can’t be helped. Also, if you are thinking some of this sounds familiar, yes, Tolkien did take some of these elements and incorporated them into his Lord of the Rings saga. It wasn’t Wagner’s entirely original creation, either; he took many elements from the Scandinavian sagas.

While the story itself is awesome, it’s the music that really shines. It begins in Das Rheingold (the first installment) with the very first cue, an amazing overture that musically captures everything you need to know about the magic of this world. The most famous surely is the beginning of the third act of Die Wälkure (the second installment), a theme commonly referred to as the Ride of the Valkyries. The third installment – Siegfried – has the title character’s wonderful heroic theme, and Götterdämmerung had its greatest moment with Siegfried’s Funeral March.

That funeral march was the definitive climax of the performance I went to see. For much of the five hours… yes, you read that right, five hours, I wasn’t expecting that and realized what I was in for with the first series of interviews during a break; anyway, for much of those five hours you could hear the music and the singing mixed in with the occasional cough. It’s like whenever you are supposed to be absolutely silent that’s when the cough decides to be a bitch and ruin your throat and everyone else’s fun. So on one end you had the chorus of singers at the Met, on the other the chorus of coughers at the Metro. Know what? As soon as that funeral march began, no one coughed. The audience as a whole was not fully invested in the show until that very moment. That’s music magic.

The staging of the opera was impressive. Ok, since this was the first time I saw a performance of Götterdämmerung, I can’t say it was better or worse than other performances, but I can see they spent some money on those moving sets, even if from an aesthetic perspective they weren’t all that. The main thing is that they conveyed effectively and with practicality what the scene required.

As for the characters, my favorite was Hagen. He’s sort of the main villain in this piece, and I think he did an outstanding job. Sigfried was good, Brünhilde was good, most of the cast was good, but Hagen knew how to pull your strings, so to speak.

So, while Götterdämmerung is not my favorite piece of the saga (in fact, it’s my least favorite piece of the saga), I enjoyed the show and was left wanting to see more of these productions. I was just a bit disappointed that an opera with the (translated into English) title of “The Twilight of the Gods” seemed to be the most grounded in Man’s world of the four operas. Damnit, I wanted to see those gods!

Goodreads Review: Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not exactly sure how I feel about this book. It did keep me glued to it for the two or three days it took me to read it, but it’s such a downer… and yet I liked how it didn’t go the cliché route and had Katniss doing typical heroic noble stuff. Hell, she messed up most of the time, and got plenty of people killed for nothing, but that was realistic, if you ask me. She might have been good enough to survive two Hunger Games, but she was no soldier, and too much was being asked of her, especially with all that pressure about being the Mockingjay and thus the target of the Capitol. Her constant psychological breakdowns were to be expected, though most people would have broken down completely way before she did.

I feel like Suzanne Collins just wanted to write an exploration of the human condition (basically, our capacity for cruelty), but for some reason went with a Young Adult series to do this. It will be really interesting how all of this suffering, gory violence, and psychological torture is translated to the big screen; “The Hunger Games” might have seemed to be a bit controversial for a YA movie, but that was nothing compared to this. It’s almost like the Harry Potter series jumping for the semi-lightheartedness of book two to the heavy grimness of book seven in just three books. You better grow up fast.

Speaking of Harry Potter, if “Catching Fire” reminded me of “Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire”, “Mockingjay” reminded me of “The Dark Knight Rises”. How? Well, like the Dark Knight trilogy, the beginning was good, the second part was brilliant, and the conclusion was sort of grim, nowhere as good as the second part, but a satisfying conclusion nonetheless, especially the last lines, where Katniss and Peeta use the Real or not Real game one last time.

Yeah, from time to time I’m a sucker for corny endings too.

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Goodreads Review: Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

By far my favorite book of the series.

The ending of “The Hunger Games” left it clear that surviving the Games wasn’t the end of the road for Katniss, that now the Capitol’s feathers were ruffled and they had a rebellion to quell before it started. “Catching Fire” devotes the first half to Katniss trying (very unsuccessfully, of course) to cool down the rebellious spirits of the districts after Snow threatened her and her family. Since the book is called “Catching Fire” and not “Cooling Down”, you can pretty much know what happens next… except that, before that “next” thing happens – that’s for the final installment, “Mockingjay” – there’s a second Hunger Games Katniss has to attend to, for failing to cool down anything.

Once it got to that part, this book reminded me a lot, in a good way, of “Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire”. In that book, a tournament of champions was set up, one in which Harry had no business to be in, and one which by the end will trigger the war between the wizards and the Death Eaters. Here it’s basically the same, with a Hunger Games that now feature past champions from every district, and one in which by the end will trigger the war between the districts and the Capitol. The set up of the Games themselves is more interesting than in the first book, and Katniss being forced into alliances with victors from other districts adds another interesting twist (since, of course, by the end there can be only one).

This is probably the easiest book in the trilogy to adapt to a movie, and am looking forward to how they do it.

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Goodreads Review: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ll be honest: I was surprised by how much I liked this book. Not that it’s a masterpiece or anything remotely close to that, but it’s really entertaining (except for the first few chapters, which are a bit of a drag). Once it gets going, it does get going, and this is all thanks to Collins’ excellent narrative. It just FLOWS smoothly.

What puzzles me is how closely the movie (which I saw before reading this) resembled the book, and yet it completely lacked that sense of entertainment. I guess since the subject matter is a bit crude for a Young Adult audience – you know, the whole children killing children thing – they went with a very somber mood, effectively killing whatever sense of entertainment you might get out of this. The truth is, it reads very PG-13, and not the R you would think a story like this would be; Katniss, the heroine, never once succumbs to the depravity of the killing, and neither does Peeta, so despite the carnage you never feel any sort of morbidity. If anything, you probably feel the same kind of detached excitement over the whole thing that the people from The Capitol feel, which is a curious thing, considering how it’s Katniss who’s telling the story, Katniss who is the complete moral opposite of the citizens of The Capitol.

The romantic triangle, while forced, actually fits and adds to the tragedy. I have no problem with this, but with how it eventually became the center of attention. I guess that comes with the YA territory, and would have been worked differently had the story been aimed at a more adult audience.

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