Twilight of the Gods
2nd April 2005
The more I think about Phyllida Lloyd's approach to the Ring Cycle the more I like it. For all the minor irritations - inevitable in an undertaking of this scale - her direction has been positive, finely focussed and consistently close to the text. The new production of Twilight of the Gods at the London Coliseum brought the cycle to an exciting and fitting climax. Act One gave us little to ruffle any feathers and modern, quasi-American, settings which well reflected the transition from nature to the complexities of capitalist living. But this did little to prepare us for the frisson of the following two acts. The barbarity of the Gibichung vassals, complete with exocet missiles, gives way to a wedding confrontation which could out-do Jerry Springer. It is a daring yet totally effective transition and places it firmly in the public view. It also makes Gidon Saks' adroit Hagen the focus of attention as he manipulates the action, moving it skilfully from the public setting to the back-stage dressing room for the final trio.
The final act is set in a black box, doom-laden from the start. The only shock of Brunnhilde's suicide bomber is the fact that it faces us with the reality of her death rather than the more usual romanticised version. This heroine takes all with her, destroying not only Valhall and the gods, but the whole world. The final scene, beautifully lit by Paule Constable, teases us for some time that the world will remain in its natural, idyllic state, but we have all gone too far. It rapidly fades, as do the orchestra lights, to leave us in total darkness. There is no rebirth, no regeneration; the gods have destroyed the world and all that Brunnhilde has done is light the final fuse.
If this is a singularly depressing view of the work, it is a starkly realistic one in the light of the world's current problems. The production does not need to try to be relevant - it is, by the nature of the story itself and its eventual outcome - for today we are only too aware that if we go on as we are for much longer, there can be no happy ending, only a complete wipe-out.
Into this well-judged and convincing framework comes some of the most pleasing musical performances of the whole cycle. Gidon Saks has already been mentioned and his Hagen dominates the work though with a sensitivity and hint at potential weakness which makes him far more complex and demanding than the usual Twilight villain. There is a real sense that he and Richard Berkeley-Steele's likeable Siegfried are two of a kind - raised by parents who only wish to manipulate and use them, with no hint of love in their lives until Brunnhilde burst in. Where many modern Siegfried's are loutish Richard Berkeley-Steele is charming, winning us over by his affable personality and humour. For this, the second act TV show context is admirably correct as he plays to the crowd to prove his case, making the irate Brunnhilde seem all the more incoherent as she tears off her wedding veil.
Kathleen Broderick is at her best in this act as well, the power and passion spilling over with real force and edge. I wondered whose idea it was for her to go bare-foot for much of the evening as this makes her stoop and look far less in control of either herself or the situation. Perhaps this should be re-thought when it comes to revival? Andrew Shore's Alberich is as commanding as ever and both the Gibichungs are cast from strength. Norns and Rhinemaidens have no weaknesses either, adding up to a formidable cast.
The evening also gave us the finest orchestral playing so far in the Cycle. Paul Daniel seemed far more relaxed and consequently more sensitive to the score and the sweep of its architectural structure.
At present there are no plans that I am aware of for a full cycle. To put it bluntly - there should be. We may only be half way through the new ROH Cycle but already the ENO Ring has far more to say dramatically and its quality of characterisation is both more interesting and more demanding.
Thankfully there are seven more performances between now and the end of April. Catch it quickly.
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