If I had to say which of the four Liceu Ring productions was the best, I have to give it to Das Rheingold, with Siegfried being the worst(it was the only one also that was really disappointing as well). Gotterdammerung fortunately after that setback is a step in the right direction. It does have imperfections, but the best overall performance of the four productions and a magnificently staged finale really make up for things.
First and foremost, I'll start with the best asset of the production. It also happens to be the best overall performance of the four Liceu Ring productions I was just talking about. Each production had a standout performance, Rheingold had Graham Clark as Loge, Walkure had Deborah Polaski as Brunnhilde and Siegfried had Falk Struckmann as Wanderer. Gotterdammerung also has a standout, and that was Matti Salminen as Hagen. I have always considered Salminen the best Hagen on DVD, and here, in the most well-developed Hagen I've seen, is no exception. In fact of the three productions on DVD he plays the role(the others being 1990 Met and 2009 Valencia) I found this one to be the most dimensional. Hagen is still the evil-incarnate villain of the opera, but here he is much more than that, with his isolation as a child that caused him to be the way that he was he is somewhat tragic and vulnerable as well. Salminen whether it is sitting on the platform observing the action, ignoring Alberich's shuffles or looking thoughtful during Brunnhilde's singing, gives Hagen dignity. And vocally I can't fault him either, he is known for his huge, black-hearted and very sonorous basso voice, and it is in mint condition here.
Deborah Polaski is also superb. Her Brunnhilde here is more straightforward than it was in Walkure but especially in the Immolation scene it is just as thrilling. Her voice is not the most beautiful of sounds but it is certainly powerful and used with intelligence. The other conspirators are also very well done. Elisabete Matos is a wonderful surprise as Gutrune. There have been productions where I have been annoyed by Gutrune, but like with Hagen I think stage director Harry Kupfer developed her very well. At first she is a glamour queen, then the consequences of the trick causes her to be more sorrowful and even harrowing. Matos conveys that perfectly through her voice, coquettish and then more mature. Falk Struckmann is almost unrecognisable in the role of Gunther, and while his voice is unsteady at times and doesn't contrast enough with Salminen(I prefer a baritone with a lighter and somewhat brighter sound than Struckmann for Gunther) the characterisation is very strong, slimy and reptile-like and then as Siegfried is dying tender and human.
Julia Joun is a moving Waltraute and sings wonderfully, though I was wondering if Cristina Obregon would have been even better. Gunter Von Kannen doesn't have the marvellous attention to detail that Alberich had in Rheingold, his role is basically a cameo role in Gotterdammerung, but sings strongly and with menace and pathos. The Norns are very good. Unfortunately, the casting has one big thorn in its side. John Treleaven's Siegfried is pretty much a disaster and little improvement, if any, on his performance in Siegfried. His voice is strained, strident and pitchy and you get the sense not just that the punishing role is too high for him but that he's shouting. He is a poor actor also, but with a different problem to Siegfried. In Siegfried he underacted to the point that you were wondering whether he was acting. Here he overacts with rolling eyes, pedantic hand gestures and grimacing to the extent that you wonder whether he was in pain. I am surprised that the cast were so professional in giving him more respect than he deserved(Weimar's Gotterdammerung should have learnt from that).
The orchestral playing improves significantly for some very powerful playing in the Immolation scene. The start of the production however shows them in shaky form, though nowhere near as bad as the solo violins in the last act of Siegfried, with the Letimotifs lacking clarity and power. Bertrand De Billy's conducting is solid on the whole, nothing extraordinary but much more assured again than in Siegfried. The chorus give what they have to the Vassals chorus, which is excellently sung if not as thrilling as the 2006 Copenhagen production. Their sense of chaos in the final scene really added to how well that scene was done. The final scene was a million times better than the one in the 1992 Bayreuth, also directed by Kupfer(which I otherwise loved, that scene apart), everything just erupts into flames with thrilling effect and people wandering about as if escaping from a house fire or a bomb with their arms above their heads was a great touch.
Kupfer's stage direction is very compelling indeed, and he shows great direction for the singers. What he does with Hagen especially is a revelation, and he deserves credit for making Gutrune and Gunther more interesting than they actually are. Thankfully the sets are back to the evocative ones seen in Rheingold and Walkure, in Siegfried they seemed tired and just unappealing in general. The costumes are not ridiculous either, while the lighting adds to the settings' evocativeness. The video directing is largely unobtrusive, while the picture and sound quality are fine. Overall, a solid Gotterdammerung that is let down by a poor Siegfried but compensated hugely by the final scene, Kupfer's character direction and Salminen's Hagen. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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