Götterdämmerung - Grosses Festspielhaus Salzburg, 5 April 2010
If only Stephane Braunschweig's Götterdämmerung was half as interesting as the zombie death bunnies I spotted in this Salzburg baker's window.
The lacquered minimalism of his boutique hotel-style sets was certainly easy on the eye, but hardly fascinating enough to compensate for a largely static production, bereft of dramatic tension or any overarching concept. Wagner's contextual challenges were dodged with limp fire and water projections and a Tarnhelm that brought to mind that immortal line from Raising Arizona: "son you got a panty on your head". It's hard to escape the conclusion that he simply lost interest in the project somewhere down the line.
Of course there were aural compensations. But as I'm not one of those people who believe that engaging visuals in any way detract or distract from the music, or that a concert performance makes an opera any clearer, I feel short-changed.
At least the Berlin Philharmonic were on good form, bar a few horn blemishes, and though Rattle's account lacked the glitter of Thielemann or the dramatic propulsion of Barenboim, it was fluent and well-paced, bursting into impressively monumental climaxes with the deaths of Siegfried and Brünnhilde.
Given the difficulty of casting the principal roles these days, there was little to complain about on that front either. Stefan Vinke's voice doesn't have the musicality or beauty of Ben Heppner's (who Vinke replaced as Siegfried at short notice.) But he can hurl those notes out with unflagging power, accuracy and stamina while leaping around like a superannuated boy scout, and that alone must place him right at the top of anyone's list.
His chemistry with Katarina Dalayman's poised and womanly Brünnhilde was limited, but then she outshone anyone else on stage in terms of sheer charisma. She sang wonderfully too - a few lower notes disappeared, but her upper register gleamed.
Anne Sofie von Otter doesn't have a lot of experience in Wagner yet, but you'd never guess from her accomplished and beautifully-articulated Waltraute. Emma Vetter's lack of experience was more evident, though her Gutrune was strongly sung.
The top vocal honours went to Mikhail Petrenko's Hagen. His vocal flexibility allowed him a lieder-like range of expression. He may have a lighter voice than most exponents of the role, but he turned it to his advantage to create a crafty, persuasive portrayal of a character more often viewed as a brutal thug. In dramatic terms it was brilliant. Musically I was less convinced. Not through any weakness on Petrenko's part, but because the Gunther of Gerd Grochowski and Dale Duesing's Alberich, though solidly performed, were also on the light side. Placed alongside Vinke's somewhat baritonal Siegfried there just wasn't the full spectrum of vocal colour.
There are some photos from the dress rehearsal here. Below is a pre-show glimpse into the pit, and some curtain call shots.
Goldener Hirsch restaurant staff shoulder platters of sausages on sticks into the Festspielhaus for the intervals: