The Canadian Opera Company enters the twilight of the gods with the revival of its acclaimed production of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung directed by Toronto-area resident Tim Albery. COC Music Director Johannes Debus conducts his first Götterdämmerung, at the helm of the internationally acclaimed COC Orchestra and Chorus with a cast of generation-defining voices led by powerhouse American soprano Christine Goerke in her debut as Götterdämmerung’s Brünnhilde. Götterdämmerung is sung in German with English SURTITLESTM and runs for seven performances on February 2, 5, 8, 11, 14, 17 and 25, 2017.
Wagner’s Ring Cycle is commonly described as “the Everest of opera.” The largest work in the history of Western music, the Ring Cycle includes four operas: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. In the fourth instalment of Wagner’s heroic Ring, after poisoned drinks, mistaken identities and much deception, Brünnhilde and Siegfried are reunited in love and death as the worlds of both men and gods go up in flames only to rise again in an unforgettable affirmation of rebirth and renewal.
Götterdämmerung is the most epic of Wagner’s tetralogy with some of the most complex and riveting music in the operatic repertoire. Many famous passages make up the final instalment of Wagner’s monumental musical journey, including Siegfried’s “Funeral March,” an orchestral showcase offering a musical retrospective of the Ring itself, and Brünnhilde’s “Immolation” scene, an immensely powerful aria in which she restores order to the world and joins Siegfried on his burning pyre in an act of love.
Director Tim Albery’s vision for the COC’s conclusion of Wagner’s masterpiece has been proclaimed as “the most inventive of all” (New York Times). First presented by the COC in winter 2006, and then in fall 2006 as part of the company’s full Ring Cycle, this Götterdämmerung is “as stunning a feat of staging as [has been] seen in Toronto” (National Post), with critics singling out that “the great virtue of Albery’s production is the urgency and absolutely clarity of the storytelling” (Opera News), while also noting the presentation as a whole represents “the COC’s proudest hour” (Globe and Mail). Production designer Michael Levine’s compelling interpretation of Götterdämmerung moves the action forward to the contemporary corporate landscape of the mortals who now rule the world and brings the cycle to a commanding and dramatic close. The lighting design is by acclaimed designer David Finn, who won back-to-back Dora Awards for his work in Die Walküre’s 2015 revival and the 2016 remount of Siegfried. Choreography is by Patti Powell.
Few roles in opera are more unique or challenging than those of Götterdämmerung’s Siegfried and Brünnhilde. They are among the most demanding tenor and soprano roles in all of opera, requiring voices of steel and sensitivity alongside super-human stamina to deliver the opera’s awe-inspiring musical drama. Austrian tenor Andreas Schager is establishing himself as one world’s leading heroic tenors and makes his COC debut as Siegfried—a role for which he’s been proclaimed a “discovery” (The Arts Desk) and “a big star in the making” (The Independent). American soprano Christine Goerke is the most sought-after Brünnhilde in the world today, her performances heralded for how her “gleaming tones sliced through the glittering orchestra” (New York Times) and possess “everything a great Brunnhilde must have: dignity, stature, and a voice of molten gold” (Toronto Star) as well as delivering “a once-in-adecade experience” (Globe and Mail). Goerke returns to sing Götterdämmerung’s Brünnhilde for the first time, previously debuting each instalment of the character in the recent COC revivals of Die Walküre and Siegfried.
Internationally renowned German baritone Martin Gantner is Gunther, Siegfried’s rival. Estonian Ain Anger, “one of the great opera basses of our time” (The Guardian), makes his Canadian and role debut as Gunther’s half brother, Hagen. Canadian bass Robert Pomakov, “a talent to watch” (Washington Post), is Alberich, whose greed for the Rhinegold began this epic saga. COC Ensemble Studio graduate soprano Ileana Montalbetti, whose performance as Ellen Orford in the COC’s recent Peter Grimes was “in the realm of greatness” (Toronto Star), returns as Gutrune, Gunther’s sister and Siegfried’s bride.
As the three Norns, daughters of Erda the Earth Goddess who are spinning the rope of destiny, is a trio of new and familiar voices. American mezzo-soprano Lindsay Ammann (Schwertleite in 2015’s Die Walküre) is the First Norn; Scottish mezzo Karen Cargill makes her COC debut as the Second Norn; and soprano Ileana Montalbetti takes on a second role as the Third Norn.
In their COC mainstage debuts as water-nymph Rhinemaidens are two COC Ensemble Studio singers, soprano Danika Lorèn as Woglinde and mezzo-soprano Lauren Eberwein as Wellgunde. Mezzo-sopranos Lindsay Ammann and Karen Cargill are also heard as the Rhinemaiden Flosshilde and the Valkyrie Waltraute, respectively.
The COC performs Götterdämmerung at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. The COC’s 16/17 season marks the 10th anniversary of the Four Seasons Centre, Canada’s first purpose-built opera house, which opened in fall 2006 and has been hailed internationally as one of the finest in the world.
Single tickets for Götterdämmerung range from $35 – $235 and box seats, when available, are $350. Tickets are now on sale, available online at coc.ca, by calling 416-363-8231, or in person at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts Box Office (145 Queen St. W.). For more information on specially priced tickets available to young people under the age of 15, standing room, Opera Under 30 presented by TD Bank Group, student groups and rush seating, visit coc.ca.
If you were hoping for a restful opera experience, Götterdämmerung or ‘Twilight of The Gods’ is not it. It is instead the most exquisite ‘heroic opera’ that will wrench your soul out of your body and hold it in front of your face until it is done with you (5 hours later). Götterdämmerung is epic, soul destroying and will make you feel like you have run a marathon whilst sitting in your comfy seat at The Four Seasons for the Performing Arts in Toronto.
The light motif is dominant throughout the production of ‘Götterdämmerung’. Blinding office lights, red light district fare, darkness with one small light hanging above a table and a performer slightly off stage whose face is illuminated can be seen from afar as the audience’s attention is focused on another performer in front of the stage under a dimly lit light. The theme of remorse, isolation and regret is connected to the light as it lingers behind Siegfried and Brünnhilde. Its unsettling grimace is noted as it also blinds the audience above Hagen and Gunther as they hatch their devious plans.
In the first Act, the theme of little phrases of music provides the audience with small snacks to nibble on as they prepare for the far larger courses to come. Moments when the curtain closed felt like a confessional where the audience was left to soak in the poetic sound emanating from the orchestra. Poignant, verbose in its intent and yet alarming.
The bold chord changes when Brünnhilde is awoken like a Sleeping Beauty by Siegfried was opera gold. The audience felt the fade and a kind of water music as it washed over our hero and heroine and then encouraged the audience to feel out their thoughts, words, camaraderie and impending doom on their own.
Indeed a slow evening of opera, ‘Götterdämmerung’ was in no rush to unfold. Similar to that of a Snap Dragon as it patiently waited for its next prey. COC Music Director Johannes Debus oozed that motif in his conductorship. He was in command of every single detail that he executed to his orchestral team. Deliberate, dynamic and spun in controlled threads of tension and a quick resolution.
Dramatic soprano, Christine Goerke, can detonate a bomb with her delivery of Brünnhilde. Her Brünnhilde is quirky, but also a maven not to be messed with. Goerke’s on stage presence will leave you with your mouth agape and wanting more when you are already being spoon fed the most delicious, decadent and resolute treats. Goerke’s Brünnhilde will teach the audience that love is about resignation, self-sacrifice and redemption. Her strength goes beyond the pop culture ‘Girl Power’ peace sign but envelopes the audience in her rage, determination and a reminder that she is her father’s daughter.
‘Götterdämmerung’ at the Canadian Opera Company with Goerke at its helm is a pure Turkish Delight with extra powder and rose essence. Whereas, Austrian tenor Andreas Schager, dreamy Siegfried is the perfect Romeo to Brünnhilde’s testy Juliet. The audience is reminded, as much as you may want to eat the dessert before your main meal – Schager will teach the importance of patience. As the audience roots for Brünnhilde, they will also shake their heads in wonderment of Siegfried’s choices and ultimate downfall.
Martin Gantner as Gunther and Estonian Ain Anger as Hagen added the texture within ‘Götterdämmerung’. Darkness, disdain, jealousy, anger – these characters take it up a notch and remind the audience not to get too comfortable. The plot was about to get even more complicated and evil.
The COC Chorus was a wonderful pop up experience in giving the audience a break from the dramatic soliloquies from the main performers. The audience was able to linger and rest as the chorus beefed up the lay of the land and demonstrated the amount of power it takes to sing over an orchestra. Their athleticism as a collective demonstrated their quiet determination in amplifying the contempt, dread and horrors that make up ‘Götterdämmerung’.
The COC Orchestra summarizes Wagner’s ‘Götterdämmerung’s’ drama and deep discord. The audience felt the energy and the havoc created on stage through the deep deluge of pain evoked by the musicians and performers. Grandiose, devastating and a reveal to make use of every moment to the best of your ability. A simple inspiration but also an easy one to forget. Siegfried and Brünnhilde provide the gentle take away in that you may be surprised in what you discover about yourself at the end of the day or in years to come if you take that risk and push yourself that little bit harder in the moment. If you made it through ‘Götterdämmerung’ unscathed, you can get through anything.