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!

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