Review: Houston Grand Opera's Götterdämmerung is a Masterful Tour de Force

HGO concludes the fourth and final installment of the Der Ring des Nibelungen series with epic performances.

By Sydney Boyd April 24, 2017

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Simon O'Neill as Siegfroed and Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde in the HGO's Götterdämmerung

Image: Lynn Lane

Richard Wagner’s 19th-century opera Götterdämmerung, the fourth and final opera in the German composer's Der Ring des Nibelungen series, also known as the Ring Cycle, was performed with aplomb by the Houston Grand Opera on Saturday. HGO began their Ring Cycle journey in 2014, with the concluding work answering a lot of questions—some about the opera, others about life generally. What happens to the magic gold ring that’s been causing so much trouble in the realms of gods? Does the epic warrior Brünnhilde ever reconcile with her father or find true love? What happens when you show up to your wedding and another chick is at the altar with your fiancé—wearing the same wedding dress?

For all the events that unfold in the 16-plus hours of this story (Don’t panic: Götterdämmerung’s runs closer to four if you don’t count the two intermissions), the narrative of Wagner's epic 1876 opera is fundamentally basic: A wrong is righted, love reigns and revenge soothes the wounds of treachery from faulty contracts (looking at you, Wotan), abandonment (you again, Wotan) and rape (this one’s on you, Siegfried). 

There’s a lot to say here, but I’ll get to the point: Soprano Christine Goerke will leave you stunned. As Brünnhilde, she performed in three of the four Ring Cycle operas, each time more grand. Her voice rings true, fervent and full—technically astounding and flush with emotion. She makes Brünnhilde the woman every woman wants to be, even in the face of ultimate betrayal. If her final aria, where she bends over Siegfried’s funeral pyre, doesn’t make you clutch your heart, nothing in this world will.

A fleet of extravagant women joins Goerke in this final installment, beginning with the three Norns—Meredith Arwady, Jamie Barton and Heidi Melton—who twist the strands of fate in the prelude with opulence and ease. Melton also sings the role of Gutrune, the fiancé-stealing Gibichung, and holds her own in voice and presence, dazzling in a shade-throwing match with Brünnhilde that puts any Dallas catfight to shame. And the opera welcomes back the coquettish Rhine maidens suspended in their glass water cubes from Das Rheingold—parts Andrea Carroll, Catherine Martin and Renée Tatum sang (and splashed) with brio. 

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The Ring Cycle is nothing without a strapping Siegfried, an exhausting role that Simon O’Neill delivered powerfully. He performed valiantly last year in Siegfried, but this time around, he's grown with his character technically, emotionally and in sheer gallantry. As his blood-brother and backstabber Gunther, Ryan McKinny served up a poignantly conflicted rendering. I was thrilled to see Andrea Silvestrelli again—a bellowing voice I had heard too briefly as the giant Fafner in Das Rheingold and Siegfried. Here, as the scheming Hagan, he thundered satisfyingly through the hall trying to get that ring for himself.

A fantastical production by the Barcelona-based theater group La Fura els Baus, directed by the visionary Carlus Padrissa and conducted, utterly in his element, by HGO artistic and music director Patrick Summers, the final installment of Ring Cycle has been fueled by momentous collaboration all four years. Adding to that list, German set designer Roland Olbeter and Spanish costume designer Chu Uroz machinated the Neanderthal-dystopian castle of the Gibichung's as the god of fire sped around in a white patent leather cape on a Segway. The only hit-and-miss aspect was Franc Aleu’s projection designs on massive screens that swiveled and pivoted with great effort. Some things, like Siegfried’s journey over mountain and sea, came off as breathtaking, while others, like a myriad of random floating objects toward the end of act two, were unnecessary and often distractions.

The nature of the Ring means waiting a long time for closure. Here, this moment came serenely in Siegfried’s funeral march. The most supreme music of all, played with perfection by the pit orchestra, accompanied a slow walk from center stage, where supernumeraries hoisted Siegfried’s body on their shoulders and marched up across a bridge, down the side of the stage, through the audience and out the back of the hall. The realm of the gods in flames, love lost, the hero dead—but that ring, back with its Rhine maidens and symbolizing what you will—survives in our world now.

Thru May 7. $23–257.25. Wortham Center, 501 Texas Ave. 713-228-6737. houstongrandopera.org

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