Melbourne Opera: Götterdämmerung review [Bendigo 2023]

The grand culmination of this extraordinary project, the premiere of Melbourne Opera’s Götterdämmerung sees the multitude of wonderful musical and creative elements weave their final magic in this landmark Bendigo Ring Cycle

The only production in this Cycle not to have been performed already, Götterdämmerung unfolds with moving musical performances and canny creative design in line with the impressive benchmark set to date, if not better. 

Instrumental music is, as ever, at a premium, with musical interludes a particular feature given the numerous scene transitions in Götterdämmerung. Maestro Anthony Negus paints some rather glorious musical pictures as he leads the voluminous Melbourne Opera Orchestra through Wagner’s epic score. 

Negus’ sensitive conducting of the orchestra and singers alike has made for a very well integrated blend of instruments and voices. At all times, singers have appeared completely confident and comfortable in Negus’ meticulous care. 

As with the first three entries, director Suzanne Chaundy achieves a natural, humanistic manner with a focus on crisp storytelling. Keeping emotional stakes to the fore, Chaudy ensures that the drama of Götterdämmerung plays out with compelling force. 

Successful as the overall focus on naturalism has been, it must be noted that this has largely come at the expense of allegory, with very little undercurrent relating to the political, sociological, or environmental world at large. Nonetheless, as an engaging entertainment, the work has been entirely satisfying. 

The Hall of the Gibichungs gives set designer Andrew Bailey a more regal location to conjure, and the red carpet result is suitably splendid. Adorned with sheer golden curtains and an abstract three-ring light fixture, the set also features Wotan’s spear and a sculpture representing Fricka’s headwear to make ties to the past. 

Costume designer Harriet Oxley dresses the three Norns in rich dark green, cleverly linking the golden rope of fate to the costumes, which are draped with golden cobweb-like strands. The realm of the gods continues in glossy metallic fabrics, and the soldiers all in black makes for a striking full stage image.

Rob Sowinski’s lighting design continues to balance atmospheric mood with visual appeal and clarity. Inbuilt lighting of the central stage ring looks terrific every time it is used. Use of the rear cyclorama varies between abstract, gently animated landscape projections by Chris Hocking and lush walls of light by Sowinski, both styles complementing the attractive stage picture while enhancing the drama. 

The full creative team combines for a vivid final image, with the shimmering blue background and fabulous sway pole artists representing water overhead while at stage level, billowing smoke and glowing lights portray fire. 

Götterdämmerung begins with the all-knowing Norns, weaving their rope of fate until it breaks, leaving the rest of the story to unfold on its own devices. With her serious, focused presence, dramatic mezzo soprano Dimity Shepherd emerges as something of a leader of the Norns. Eleanor Greenwood and Jordan Kahler round out the beautifully blended vocals of the trio, each singer an accomplished soloist in their own right.

Having professed their love at the conclusion of Siegfried, Bradley Daley and Antoinette Halloran make more beautiful music in act one of Götterdämmerung

Daley’s unquestioned high point of the opera comes in act three when Siegfried is recapping his journey to date. Slipped another potion, Siegfried suddenly recalls his great love for Brünnhilde and is struck by the enormity of the deception and unwanted pairings that have transpired. Daley clearly conveys every beat of this sequence with moving passion, making the character’s subsequent death all the more tragic. 

An actor of exceptional emotional intelligence, along with the finely honed skills to convey every nuance of feeling, Halloran commands the stage with grace and dignity, fully realising the compelling, complex arc of Brünnhilde. In act two, when the drugged Siegfried does not recognise Brünnhilde, Halloran’s crushing pain is highly affecting, and this pain very convincingly colours her determined journey to vengeance as the act progresses. Finally, Halloran is alone on stage for the final sequence, in which she unleashes further searing power, bringing the opera to a gripping climax.

The visit to Brünnhilde by Waltraute, sung by the redoubtable Deborah Humble, is a true highlight of the opera. In an extended monologue, Humble is absolutely compelling, making Waltraute’s story by turns vividly dramatic and emotionally moving. 

Dressed as a fiendish Bond villain, powerhouse bass Steven Gallop gives a commanding performance as Hagen, playing the devilish role as a something of a smiling assassin. Joined by a massive contingent of men from the Melbourne Opera Chorus, Gallop leads a thrilling scene in act two, in which the men create a virtual wall of sound with Gallop vocally just as strong, eyes blazing with Hagen’s crazed lust for the Ring. 

When the women of court join the military men on stage, the production takes on an epic feel, matching the dramatic stakes with visual grandeur. 

Baritone Christopher Hillier is in strong form as Gunther, a noble fellow led astray by Hagen and ruined as a consequence. Soprano Kerry Gill gives solid support as innocent victim Gutrune. 

The return of the Rhinemaidens brings lovely vocals complemented by sweetly synchronised movement from Rebecca Rashleigh (Woglinde), Naomi Flatman (Wellgunde), and Karen Van Spall (Flosshilde).

All this, plus another welcome visit from Simon Meadows, his malevolent Alberich reliably sung with a heady mix of ringing power and vibrant expression. 

At a time when the heavily subsidised Opera Australia has inexplicably abandoned fully staged opera in Melbourne, the gusto, quality, and sheer showmanship from Melbourne Opera are a true gift to Victoria. Greater than the sum of its (not inconsiderable) parts, the first round of the Bendigo Ring Cycle has been a highly memorable affair. Lovers of opera, and of Wagner in particular, are strongly urged to make the trek to the Ulumbarra Theatre in Bendigo to watch one of the two upcoming cycles, or, at the very least, to catch one of the performances. A highly rewarding musical experience awaits. 

The Ring Cycle plays at Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo on select dates in March and April 2023. 

For tickets to The Ring Cycle, click here.

The Ring Cycle casting can be read online.

For details of the Ring Cycle Festival, click here.

To download the program to the Ring Cycle Festival, click here

The Ring Cycle is streamed on Australian Digital Concert Hall.

In the 2023 Bendigo Ring Cycle, Man in Chair has reviewed:

Das Rheingold

Die Walküre


Photos: Robin Halls

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