Review: ‘Gotterdammerung (Twlight of the Gods)’ at SF Opera (***1/2)

by Charles Kruger

Iréne Theorin as Brünnhilde and Jamie Barton as Waltraute in Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung.”
Photo Credit:: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

In the culminating performance of SF Opera’s Ring Cycle, “Gotterdammerung,” the thrills are not so much in the dramatic action but in some remarkable visuals and musical highlights, including the large chorus which does not appear in the first three operas of the cycle.

As “Gotterdammerung” opens, we hear from three Norns, weavers of fate. But they are not seated at spinning wheels, or a loom. Rather, they appear to be working for an electrical company, in what might be an abandoned powerhouse. Lights flashing, sparks flying, the movement of electrical currents (perhaps the activities inside a vast computer) indicated by moving globes of light make a fascinating metaphor for the complexities of fate. The Norns are laying,with difficulty, huge electrical cables. They listen to the ends of the cables to hear the strands of time from the past and into the future. It is a fascinating and successful image. All three Norns (Ronnita Miller, Jamie Barton, and Adler fellow Sarah Cambridge) have marvelous voices and technique, but it is the intriguing visual effect of this scene that sticks in the memory. Readers familiar with the story will know that the scene closes with the Norns having lost the threads of time, so that the remainder of the opera plunges into an unpredictable future.

Little about this opera (except, of course, the music), is beautiful. It tells an ugly story of treachery and manipulation, as the evil brothers Gunther (the always reliable Brian Mulligan) and Hagen (Andra Silvestrelli) trick Siegfried by magic into betraying Brünnhilde so that they may obtain possession of the powerful Ring.

As the story moves along to its sad, but ultimately life-affirming, ending, musical highlights include a thrilling performance by Jamie Barton as Brünnhilde’s sister Valkyrie, Waltraute, who unsuccessfully begs Brunnhilde to return the ring to the Rhine Maidens to bring its curse to an end. Barton has a huge voice, of enormous strength, and yet gives no impression that she is pushing or even coming close to her full capacity. Even in the midst of a swelling fortissimo in the highest registers, she maintains firm control of dramatic nuance. She has been described as a “great artist” and even been compared to the legendary Kirsten Flagstaff and her performance as Waltraute confirms that assessment.

The chorus sings with vigor and authority, and the penultimate scene in which Siegfried is murdered and Brünnhilde returns the ring to the Rhine maidens before sacrificing herself in a blaze of fire is satisfying, but strangely less moving than it ought to be. Several of the most dramatic moments are insufficiently distinguished from one another, which dissipates their impact.

The final moments of the opera, however, are visually and musically stunning, as the Rhine is returned to its pristine state with the restoration of the Rhine Gold and we see and hear the maidens once more at home in its clean and renewing waters. The projections of waterfalls, and the rebirth of the Rhine, are among the most visually successful moments in the entire cycle and as the orchestra reprises the motif of the Rhine Maidens the cycle comes to a most satisfying conclusion.

SF Opera’s Final Performances of The Ring Cycle continue this week with “Siegfried” on June 29th, and “Gotterdammerung” on July 1st.

For further information, click here.

Rating: ***1/2 (for an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.

“Götterdämmerung” by Richard Wagner. Co-produced by SF Opera and Washington National Opera. Conductor: Donald Runnicles. Director: Francesca Zambello. Associate Director: Laurie Feldman. Choreographer: Denni Sayers. Set Designer: Michael Yeargan. Costume Designer: Catherine Zuber. Lighting Designer: Mark McCullough. Projections Designed by S. Katy Tucker, based on original designsby Jan Hartley and S. Katy Tucker. Chorus Director: Ian Robertson. Dance Master: Lawrence Pech. Fight Directdor: Dave Maier.


First Norn: Ronnita Miller. Second Norn: Jamie Barton. Third Norn: Sarah Cambridge. Brünnhilde: Iréne Theorin. Siegfried: Danniel Brenna. Gunther: Brian Mulligan. Andrea Silvestrelli: Hagan. Gutrune: Melissa Citro. Waltraute: Jamie Barton. Alberich: Falk Struckmann.Woglinde: Stacey Tappan. Wellgunde: Lauren McNeese. Flosshilde: Renée Tatum.

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