I think it’s only with the final instalment of the Kupfer/Barenboim Ring that its true power is apparent. The first three instalments are very fine but Götterdämmerung is devastating. All the elements that have been progressively introduced are seamlessly combined. Add to that extraordinarily intense performances from Siegfried Jerusalem (Siegfried), Philip Kang (Hagen) and, above all, Anne Evans (Brünnhilde) and one has something very special indeed.
We start off with the Norns in a setting that could have come straight from The Seventh Seal. It’s a “winter forest” lit more or less monochromatically in which the Norns weave fate. Out of this a giant rock emerges for Siegfried and Brünnhilde to display some really fine singing and acting. The only thing that jars a bit is the almost realistic Grane who looks a bit naff (maybe the only naff thing in the whole production). This only gets worse as it sort of shudders its way upstage in the Rhine journey scene. Past that there’s a very effectively lit Gibichung Hall and more fine singing and acting from Kang as well as Eva-Maria Bundschuh (Gütrune) and Bodo Brinkmann (Gunther).
By this point it’s clear that a whole gestural language has been developed for each character. Siegfried’s body language communicates youthful impetuosity, Hagen has a vocabulary of emphatic gestures, Gütrune bobs and weaves. It’s really interesting to see how it all combines. The singing continues to be very fine with Anne Evans in fantastic voice all through the second act.
Act 3 opens with a sort of spaceship/gantry contraption and slightly zombified Rhine maidens; their power/beauty attenuated by the loss of the gold. The action leading up to Siegfried’s death is well contrived and the Funeral March is no solemn procession but a sequence of people recoiling in horror from what has happened. Even Wotan puts in a brief appearance. The final scene shows Evans at her best. She’s electrifying and is given some very effective pyrotechnics to emphasise the point. The closing moments are, I suppose, controversial. Groups of people of different social classes bring TVs on stage to watch the ending as we hear the final bars. I thought it effective. It is how we see the world’s great tragedies.
This is, overall, the best Ring I have seen. Singing, acting, conducting and the overall production concept and its execution are all quite excellent. It’s also very well filmed and transferred to Blu-ray (see here for more details) and it’s bargain priced. What more could you ask for?