Bravi! They did it! The Canadian Opera Company has staged Wagner’s complete Ring Cycle for the first time in Canada. And as the CBC wraps up tonight’s program by playing some themes from The Ring, I realize that the music has gotten into me. I’ve been living with it for the last six days—and nights. I’ve been dreaming in opera, and this morning I woke up wishing I could remember the tune of Brünnhilde’s waking song, “Hail, O light, Hail, O radiant day!” If nothing else, Wagner has impact.
The Ring Cycle concluded tonight with Götterdämmerung, “Twilight of the Gods.” In it the hero Siegfried, unknowingly cursed by the Ring of Power, is drugged by Hagen, son of the evil Alberich, into forgetting his love, Brünnhilde, and marrying Hagen’s half-sister Gutrune. Hagen also manipulates Gutrune’s brother, Gunther, into asking Siegfried to put on his disguising helmet and claim Brünnhilde as Gunther’s wife, which Siegfried, ever obtuse, cheerfully accomplishes.
Hagen hopes this will bring the Ring of Power within his possession, but he is foiled by Brünnhilde’s heroism. She exposes Siegfried’s bigamy, and though Hagen uses this to his advantage to plot Siegfried’s murder with the embarrassed Gunther, he cannot stop Brünnhilde from returning the Ring to its rightful guardians, the Rhinemaidens (remember them?). In the end, Brünnhilde, who finally realizes that Siegfried had been tricked, throws herself on his funeral pyre to be united with him one last time, and the Rhine floods so that the Rhinemaidens can retrieve the ring. Finally, Valhalla itself burns, the rule of the Eternals ends, and a new day, wherein love and freedom reign, dawns.
I still don’t really know what to think about it all. Wagner did not write entertainment. He was philosophical, and apparently rewrote Götterdämmerung several times as he refined his thought. He was also a political activist, concerned with the big issues of his time. I heard in a previous program that he was longing for an end to the feudal system and the advent of a society governed by love. Though the rather clueless Siegfried is called “hero” by the other characters in The Ring, it is Brünnhilde, daughter of Wotan and the Earth Goddess, who consciously relinquishes power in favour of love and thus ends both the curse of the Ring and the power of the gods. She’s my hero!
As you might be able to tell, I liked this performance much better than Friday’s Siegfried. Christian Franz’s singing as Siegfried was a bit more to my liking tonight, and there were a variety of other great singers to add to the enjoyment. I thought Susan Bullock was very good as Brünnhilde, and bass-baritone Richard Paul Fink (Alberich) was outstanding as usual. Mats Almgren, bass, who played Alberich’s son Hagen, was truly wonderful to listen to, and the announcer remarked on his stage presence, which I wish I had seen. The Canadian Opera Company chorus got their Wagnerian debut tonight and they were amazing. I will have to ask my sister (also a chorister) how they really rate, but to me they sounded fantastic. You could hear every syllable they sang, even better than some of the principals at times.
In the end, though, it was the music that got me. I withstood all the most dramatic moments, some of the most touching in all opera, I understand, but it was the music at the end, without singing, heralding the new day, where I lost it. I mean I was boo-hooing. It was so beautiful, and well, I suppose it was just a release of everything that had been built up over the preceding 17 hours of performance. It was a good ending.
I am so glad I was able to participate in this historic (for Canada) artistic event. They call it the Everest of opera, and now the Maple Leaf is firmly planted on the summit. The response from the Wagner experts has been very positive, with nothing but raves for the new hall and the orchestra. With all that is going on in the world these days it is a nice reprieve to be a part of something so unequivocally positive. Art makes people happy, and that is good.
BONUS: For anyone who made it this far (anyone? anyone?), find out Which Wagner Opera Do You Belong In? I got Parsifal, “a contemplative drama of wisdom gained through compassionate suffering.” I’ll have to listen to that some time!