Last night the COC began its run of Götterdämmerung, the last and longest opera in Wagner’s epic tetralogy at The Four Seasons Centre. It’s very different from Die Walküre and Siegfried. The visual elements that tied them together; tottering Valhalla, disintegrating world ash, gantries, dancers, heaps of corpses are mostly gone. In Tim Albery’s production the visuals are spare almost to abstraction. The Gibichung Hall is a CEO suite with computer monitors and red couches, both Brünnhilde’s rock and the Rhinemaidens’ hang out look improvised, almost like squatters’ camps. Costuming, apart from an occasional flashback, as in Waltraute’s scene, is severely modern business; grey suits, black dresses. Only Siegfried himself in tee shirt and leather jacket stands out from the corporate crowd. Dancing flames are replaced by red lights. Everything that can be understated is and the world ends not with an overflowing Rhine and collapsing Valhalla but a stately pas de quatre between Brünnhilde and the Rhinemaidens.
With little visual distraction attention focusses more on the characters and their interactions and this is very well done. There is real chemistry between Christine Goerke’s Brünnhilde and Andreas Schager’s Siegfried. Other characters are well developed. Ileana Montalbetti’s Gutrune has an agency and dignity sometimes lacking and Ain Anger’s Hagen has real menace. The trio of Rhinemaidens; Lindsay Ammann, Lauren Eberwin and Danika Lorèn get the only moments of levity of the night and manage to be both funny and sexy as they switch back and forth between trench coats and underwear. The very large chorus too is well drilled and makes effective stage pictures.
All that said, I think the reason to see this show is for the music not the stage action. Vocally it’s a very strong unit with no weak links. Goerke of course is the key and she is, I’m not sure what she is. here should be a very long German word for it; Weltgobsmackingmachtstimmerung perhaps. She has gas enough in the tank to be clearly audible over dense orchestration in the final scene with little sign of strain or tiredness. And it’s not just power. She is pleasant to listen too. There’s a golden, shimmery tone to the voice even at full bore. If Goerke leads the pack the rest aren’t far behind. Schager is a true, ringing, Heldentenor of heft. Anger is as looming a presence vocally as physically and even Martin Gantner’s weaselly Gunther sounds good. Fantastic for us locals to see Ileana Montalbetti just five years out of the Ensemble Studio sing Gutrune with confidence, real weight and some rather lovely dark colours in the voice. She was not at all out of place in a distinguished cast.
Then there was Johannes Debus. This guy is bidding for a place in the ranks of the great Wagner conductors. Pacing, mostly on the brisk side, and clarity last night were exemplary. The big orchestral set pieces like the Rhine journey and the Funeral March stood as dramatic scenes in their own right though played out in front of a blank curtain. The weight of sound was finely judged too. It was never anaemic but it was supportive of, rather than fighting the singers. I think he deserved the loudest ovation from an enthusiastic opening night house.
This is a long show but it’s worth it. It runs from a 6pm curtain to past 11.30pm with curtain calls which is a bit bum numbing even with two intervals but it’s worth it. Whatever you do, don’t leave after Act 2. The best is yet to come. There are six more performances between Sunday and February 25th. Most of the shows are at 6pm but the Sunday performance is at 2pm (almost sold out) and the 25th is at 4,30pm. Tickets etc from coc.ca.
Photo credits: Michael Cooper