I have just returned from Milan, where I was President of the jury to appoint the next principal trumpet at this most prestigious of opera houses. Whilst there, I was invited to attend the preview performance before the Opening Night of arguably Wagner’s greatest opera – ‘Götterdämmerung’.
It proved to be an evening of superlatives. La Scala, the building, is a most impressive sight with its tiered boxes encapsulating the weight of tradition and history that emanates from the magnificent interior.
The music begins and immediately you are transported into a nether world of Rhine-Maidens, Valkyrie, Gibichungs, the epic love story of Siegfried and Brünnhilde and, of course, the Ring of the Nibelung. The orchestra sounded magnificent with glorious playing, in particular from the wind and brass, whose motifs guided us through the complications of the plot, continually hinting at the action and characters on stage.
This new production, shared between La Scala, the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin and in collaboration with the Toneelhuis, Antwerp, employed stunning sets designed by Guy Cassiers, but the highlight of the evening, visually, was the astonishing video effects of fire and brimstone by Arjen Klerkx and Kurt D’Haeseleer. Given the performance took 6 hrs and 5 mins to complete the action on stage was awe-inspiring and at no point were you even thinking about looking at your watch!
As you would expect the singing was world-class in quality and projection and, given the huge orchestration employed by Wagner, you never felt that the voices were swamped or diminished in tone. Lance Ryan as Siegfried, Mikhail Petrenko as a revolting Hagan, Gerd Grochowski as the pathetic Gunther and, magnificent in her role as the number one femme fatale of all time was Iréne Theorin as Brünnhilde, incomparable in this role.
Superbly conducted by Karl-Heinz Steffens with Daniel Barenboim taking over the reins on May 30 this production is as good as it gets in terms of the visual elements, choreography, singing and orchestral playing. If La Scala is perceived as the number one opera house in the world then this production only consolidates that position. It’ll take some beating….