Gotterdammerung may be a lengthy opera. But it is still as worthy as the previous three operas in the cycle with one of the greatest Wagnerian characters in Hagen, some of the best music in the cycle and it's here where Brunnhilde comes into her own. Regarding the La Scala Ring Cycle, it's been a very enjoyable one on the most part. As someone who was very impressed with Das Rheingold, loved Die Walkure and liked but not loved Siegfried, Gotterdammerung was somewhat of a disappointment but it's still reasonably good but considering what had come before it it could have been very good.
It is not a bad-looking production at all, none of the four productions are. The lighting still continues to be very dynamic and reflective of the characters and their emotions, the sets and projections are still colourful and the costumes do give a sense of time and place. What the La Scala Ring Cycle has done really well in all four productions is maintaining the mythical nature of the operas while embracing and making good use of Wagner's symbolism, a striking example being in the video projections in Das Rheingold. In fact visually the only problem was the overly-fussy video directing that definitely could have focused much more on the singer singing at the appropriate time.
There is a huge amount to praise about musically. The music in Gotterdammerung already is of sheer magnificence and that feeling is not once lost. The orchestral playing was fabulous in the productions of Das Rheingold, Die Walkure and Siegfried, and it is so here as well. The brass during the Valhalla theme, the Redemption motif playing against the descending bass part and the more prominent than usual rise and fall idea in the lower instruments in the Gotterdammerung motif are particularly telling. The chorus are excellent too, Barenboim's idea to reduce the number of individuals singing at points came off very effectively. Daniel Barenboim's conducting has also been of a consistent standard in the La Scala Ring Cycle in a work that he is very experienced in and here it is no different. While sympathetic to the performers he really makes the drama come alive and in a way that is very true to Wagner's specific musical directions.
Where the Gotterdammerung falls down is in some of the staging and the uneven cast. The staging certainly has its moments, most notably the ending with a Les Passions Humaines influence, it is jaw-dropping visually and actually feels like an end of the world apocalypse(after seeing one too many productions where the scene felt like an anti-climax and hindered by costs). The dancers, who could be intrusive before, are put to good use here in Siegfried's Rhine Journey and dance and move elegantly to clever choreography. The scene between Hagen and Alberich is very intense and there is a telling touch with Brunnhilde in her meeting with Siegfried in Gibichung, all to do with a facial expression that turns from welcoming to bewilderment. Aside from those, on the whole Gotterdammerung is the least involving dramatically of the four, there is nothing overly-glossy and there is nothing offensive at all(in fact Cassiers mostly is loyal to Wagner's directions) and at least the story's coherent but the drama is dull and lacking emotion too often. The romantic chemistry, particularly in the Dawn duet, between Siegfried and Brunnhilde is of barely-any quality and character interaction and development don't come through, with the exception of Alberich and Hagen, instead it can be static and concert performance-like.
Performances are mostly good in an inconsistent cast. Starting with the good performances, Irene Theorin proves herself a worthy replacement for Nina Stemme. Her voice is not as beautiful and there is a touch of occasional shrillness that Stemme did not have, but it is a big thrilling voice, especially at the top, that shows little signs of being taxed. Her acting is wonderful, the ecstasy and abandon is perfectly pitched in the Immolation scene and I'd say she's more emotive and fiery than Stemme. Waltraud Meier is a moving and authoritative Waltraute, her scene with Brunnhilde actually also among the better scenes because the acting of the two is so good, and while her voice has been more beautiful before it is long way from un-listenable and she sounds ideal for the role. One of the highlights of Siegfried and especially Das Rheingold, Johannes Martin Kränzle is superb as Alberich, his repulsive nature more distorted but you do feel some pity for him. Gerd Grochowski is surprisingly effective as Gunther, a character more menacing than usual. The Rheinemaidens are splendid and enchanting.
Now for the performances that didn't quite come off so well though neither are disastrous. Lance Ryan brings subtlety, good musicianship and heroism to Siegfried, but he does sound strained and unsteady here(especially on long notes, some also a little suspect in pitch) in a way that he didn't in Siegfried. Mikhail Petrenko dramatically is spot-on as Hagen, who is very slimy and evil-incarnate here, but I didn't care hugely for his voice. The low notes are solid but the basic tone is rather dry and under-powered and not the rich black-hearted quality that is personally preferable, to me he has more of a Gunther sort of voice. Anna Samuil sings beautifully in an uninteresting role but she does come across as too forthright and at times too much of a vamp. The Norns all have good voices but they are voices that don't blend together, the most successful is the First Norn of Margarita Nekrasova though Meier is the best actress of the three, Samuil is the Third Norn and sadly from personal view the role is too heavy for her.
All in all, an enjoyable and impressive in a lot of areas, it's just a disappointment in comparison to what was seen before in the La Scala Ring Cycle. 6-6.5/10 Bethany Cox