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Ed Spanjaard unleashes primal forces in Götterdämmerung Reisopera

The final applause after the premiere of Götterdämmerung stormy, is an understatement. It seemed as if the completely sold-out auditorium wanted to surpass the primal forces extracted from the Gelders Orkest by Ed Spanjaard. History was made here: on stage, by the soloists and choir, in the orchestra pit and behind the scenes, for six hours and 20 minutes.

It takes a while, but then everything happens simultaneously: Valhalla goes up in flames, the Rhine bursts its banks and the Rhine-daughters, after 15 hours of opera, finally get back the gold and the ring forged from it. Already tricky on paper, but how do you bring the final scene of Wagner's Götterdämmerung convincingly on stage? Antony McDonald gets the job done.

Four years ago, he embarked on the ultimate challenge at the National Reisopera: staging the complete Der Ring des Nibelungen. At the end of the prologue - Das Rheingold - he showed Wotan and the other gods as stranded travellers on a mountain platform, waiting for the next train to Valhalla, while fire god Loge was already whispering to us, "Ihrem ende eilen sie zu." Valhalla itself turned out to be an amusement park projected against the backdrop, complete with roller coaster and Ferris wheel.

We did not see that Valhalla again in the subsequent parts. However, we did see in Die Walküre the country home of supreme god Wotan: a simple log cabin in the mountains, where he contemplates the fate of the gods on an army brit, assisted by his favourite daughter Brünnhilde. Siegfried showed us the boudoir of the primal mother Erda and the mausoleum where Wotan put the exiled Brünnhilde to sleep.

Photo Marco Borggreve


Before returning there, it begins Götterdämmerung with a prologue, in which Erda's three daughters try to sum up the foregoing as they spin their yarn. Here McDonald comes right away with a nice directorial find. He has the sisters not spin, but shuffle a photo album. Although their 'previously on the Ring' literally cracks, the rest of the longest opera in the entire Ring many similar moments; the whole pre-history recurs in fragments. For instance, Hagen is haunted in his sleep by Alberich's vindictiveness, Siegfried entertains the hunters with stories from his younger years, Brünnhilde is visited by her sister Waltraute, and so on.

However, these repetitions are more than just repetitions; they are crucial to the opera's progress. After all, Alberich drives Hagen to his ultimate act - killing Siegfried; Siegfried makes that murder possible through his looseness during the hunting party, and Waltraute's lamentation about the fate of the gods makes Brünnhilde know exactly what she must do to actually bring about the end of the gods.

Then suddenly it is there again, again projected on the backdrop: Valhalla. Now in the form of an ever-expanding and fiercely burning Ferris wheel. The symbolism is simple, but oh so effective. After all, weren't it the giants who built Valhalla for Wotan? Were they not the first victims of the curse of ring? Wasn't everything for fire god Loge more than entertainment? And of course: that burning circle, is there a more effective portrayal of the Ring?

McDonald shows the Rhine bursting its banks just as simply: the overturned boat we already saw at the beginning of the third act slides from the side stage onto the stage. And the pyre on which Siegfried and, moments later, Brünnhilde turn to ashes? Just a pyre, with wood, real fire and lots of smoke effects. The 'laughing death' she sang about with Siegfried at the end of 'the second evening' is shown as Wagner conceived it.

So, as in the earlier parts, no big dramaturgical surprises. Not the abstraction of, say, the Amsterdam Ring by Pierre Audi which will be remade in 2013, nor the wonderful find by Kasper Bech Holten which is his Ring in Copenhagen concluded with a still-living Brünnhilde with a baby in her arms, as the ultimate symbol of the decay of the old world giving way to a new one.

Photo Marco Borggreve

Intendant Guus Mostart explicitly wanted a Ring that simply tells the story, and in this he and Antony MacDonald more than succeeded. He also wanted the Ring show as a complete tetralogy in 2013, not least because a Ring-staging can only then be truly appreciated. As we know, that is not going to happen - although the registration of this Ring does tour several Dutch cinemas and will also be released on blu-ray.

What will happen to all those sets is still unclear. Although it would be a shame to throw them away, just storing them puts a heavy financial strain on the Reisopera, which has been cut down to a production core. That Guus Mostart was appointed Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau after the premiere is therefore a sour plaster on the wound. For however justified the royal decoration and the city medal he also received are; they are individual awards for a collective achievement, and Mostart has always stated that his greatest pride is precisely in bringing the Reisopera to the international level it has now reached. Not for nothing, when asked whether he would have embarked on this adventure 12.5 years ago if he foresaw then that it would end with these cuts, Guus Mostart answered unequivocally: no. You don't build up to see it demolished in one fell swoop, especially if there is no artistic failure behind it.

Via Twitter, the fire was stoked further shortly after the premiere. 

Hopefully, Mostart's successor Nicolas Mansfield will succeed in building a new company on the ruins of Valhalla that will build on the success of this Götterdämmerung equals.


De Nationale Reisopera, Het Gelders Orkest conducted by Ed Spanjaard: Richard Wagner - Götterdämmerung. Wilminktheatre Enschede, 30 September to 16 October.

Henri Drost

Henri Drost (1970) studied Dutch and American Studies in Utrecht. Sold CDs and books for years, then became a communications consultant. Writes for among others GPD magazines, Metro, LOS!, De Roskam, 8weekly, Mania, hetiskoers and Cultureel Persbureau/De Dodo about everything, but if possible about music (theatre) and sports. Other specialisms: figures, the United States and healthcare. Listens to Waits and Webern, Wagner and Dylan and pretty much everything in between.View Author posts

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