Richard Wagner's opera is nothing less than a parable for our times. Sven-Eric Bechtolf's production performed last night at the Vienna State Opera demonstrated the point.
The minimalist scenery, the emphasis on light and shade, the special effects; the final scene where Valhalla, the home of the gods, is devoured by a seething whirlpool of computerised flame and the world vanishes below the rapidly rising waters is immense.
It all begins with the rope of fate and the chopping down of one tree too many. The gods are on the hill in their glass palaces. The light is green and subdued. The Vienna Philharmonic is packed into the orchestra pit. The sound emanating from there is out of this world. The musicians, especially the horns, are on top of their form. The conductor, the man who is soon to be the new musical director of the renowned opera house, Franz Welser-Möst is heading for a standing ovation; but that's five hours away. There's a lot to get through between now and then.
The story revolves around the chicanery of the scheming, megalomaniac Hagen (Eric Halfvarson). Nothing and no-one can stand in his way as he undermines and wangles his way through various power struggles. He's one of the world's smiling in your face and sticking the spear in your back leaders. His vast army is always ready to obey the latest order. Fear is weak. Army is strong. Punishment brings joy.
The scenery is Orwellian. Soldiers in field grey supply the guard of honour for the royal wedding of Brünnhilde (Eva Johansson) and Gunther (Boaz Daniel). The temple of grey pillars is illuminated in an icy blue light. Hagen prances through the scene like a demented despot. The man orders soldiers here and there, on a whim.
The incompetent Siegfried (Stephen Gould) is duped at every turn. He lives on past glories. He is unable to adapt to the present. He loses his queen, his mind, his life. Demons and sorcerers, arrive unseen in the shadows, the broken rope of fate is useless, and chaos reigns. Vengance, once a sacred right, becomes the everyday.
Siegfried is speared in the back by the smiling Hagen and the world begins to disintegrate, slowly at first with the soft tap-tap of death's drum. This rises to become the loud drumbeat of war. It can only end in a holocaust of Armageddon proportions. And it does. There are no survivors. Flame and water mercilessly devour all; except in the distance, small and silent two humans stand holding each other in their naked embrace. And darkness falls.
Somewhere in all that chaos there was heard the neighing of a horse. A note struck on a violin. It was the last sound of life.