Wagner – Götterdämmerung

Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, Wednesday February 15 2006

Conductor: Christoph Eschenbach. Production and sets: Robert Wilson. Costumes: Frida Parmeggiani. Lighting: Kenneth L. Schutz, Robert Wilson. Siegfried: Nikolai Schukoff. Gunther: Dietrich Henschel. Hagen: Kurt Rydl. Alberich: Sergei Leiferkus. Brünnhilde: Linda Watson. Gutrune: Christine Goerke. Waltraute: Mihoko Fujimura. First Norn: Qiu Lin Zhang. Second Norn and Wellgunde: Daniela Denschlag. Third Norn and Woglinde: Marisol Montalvo. Flosshilde: Annette Jahns. Orchestre de Paris.

The Siegfried Riddle

Well, a week with Brünnhilde certainly knocked the stuffing out of Siegfried. He shed both pounds and decibels, and whereas the critics had said Jon Fredric West had the voice but not the looks, for Götterdämmerung their complaint was the reverse.

Young Nikolai Schukoff seems an enigmatic choice for the part. His website tells us he’s been singing Ferrando, Tamino, Alfredo, Rodolfo and Nemorino, but that “According to his vocal development, Nikolai Schukoff is changing his repertoire towards more dramatic roles.” I believe he was therefore due to appear in the upcoming full Ring cycles as Froh. But when the scheduled tenor dropped out (don’t ask me, I can’t remember) he was picked to sing Siegfried.

He was certainly a slimmer, more plausible-looking Siegfried than West (whose wig unfortunately had him looking like the ageing Liberace), and certainly had great stage presence and charm; but the whole long evening wasn’t enough for me to form an opinion on the voice. I mean, it was so unexpected I could neither decide if it was a convincing experiment – making Siegfried a more lyrical role with not a hint of Heldentenor – or if, in Donizetti, Schukoff would be great. I was afraid the Paris audience would give him a rough reception, but they applauded like crazy after all. Some of this was for his pluck, that’s certain; but I don’t see him taking on other roles of this kind in his career. There’s “more dramatic” and “more dramatic” after all, and what his website seemed to mean by the term was Don José.

Our placid Brünnhilde finally woke up – better late than never - in act 2 of Götterdämmerung and put in a fairly lively performance. Also, I found myself wondering why I’d said that in Siegfried her voice was plummy, as here it definitely had more bite and edge to it. Henschel was as striking and charismatic as ever, Leiferkus carried on as in the previous episode, and Rydl and Christine Goerke put in the nearest thing to old-style Wagnerian performances of the evening.

The staging offered up some more good images, notably the handling of the Rhine as a trough filled with dry ice for the maidens to waft around in. The fire at the end was possibly a little feeble, contained in a chic, minimalist aquarium rising at the rear of the stage.

And so came to an end a Ring cycle that some absolutely hated but was the best, with all its shortcomings, I’ve ever had a chance to witness.

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