Leave it to Richard Wagner to take as his subject nothing less than the end of the world.The only thing more outlandish than the sheer hubris of the gesture is the realization that he succeeded with Gotterdammerung.
The gargantuan project of the Ring tetralogy does not lose steam at the end, it accelerates! In an effort that spanned about a quarter century requiring the aid not only of friends and bankers, but kings and against all odds he had done it. After the sunny spring of Rheingold with its water nymphs and giants, domestic squabbles and finally culminating in the near eviction of the gods from Valhalla, it seems its' lease too was "underwater" and would require nothing less than the sale of one of Wotan's children to mortgage the balance. After a dubious transaction for the balance in gold and later the death of Sigmund and Sieglende, the exile of Brunnhilde and the birth of Siegfried and the slaying of a dragon the last and final trial was yet to come, the saving of the world.
Beginning with a testament of doom foretold by the Norn's and the passionate and hopeful duet of the lovers that urge the hero on to new adventure, true hero we arrive at what James Cain the great American noir writer of Double Indemnity calls - the house of death. Siegfried's arrival after the stirring Rhine Journey music at the home of the Gibichungs is in fact the first stage of the dreaded Ragnarok, the end of the gods and the destruction of the world. At its' heart is the anti-hero Hagen (the bass role of a lifetime) and his unquenchable lust for revenge; remember that stolen gold in Rheingold? What follows is a tale of magic, amnesia, betrayal, lost love and family tragedy. From this domestic world of unwed sisters and power hungry brothers; blood oaths and misunderstood promises, the plot spirals out uncontrollably into murder and a final conflagration that ignites a fire that consumes the world and is finally cleansed by the rising of the river Rhine and the genesis of another, purer earth from the ashes. After about a twenty minute final aria and recapitulation of all that had come before with comes the words...
am Rande des Rheins zuhauf !
Stout logs you must collect for me
in a pile on the shores of the Rhine.
It is on this fire that the body of the dead hero Siegfried is to be consumed, joined by his beloved Brunnhilde and that a new and hopefully better world is to arise from the ashes, roughly 5 hours later with intermission. For the Wagnerian its' only possible flaw can be that it isn't long enough .
Tune in one hour early this Saturday at 11am for the Met's presentation of Wagner's towering music Gotterdammerung , here on KPAC and KTXI.
by Ron Moore