Oh Lord It's the Ring Part IV: Gotterdammerung
August 17th, 2013
This Girl is En Fuego!
It was a determined me who showed up Saturday night, after 2.5 days of drugs and pounding Gatorade. But I WAS determined. Even after learning that in missing Siegfried I had practically missed The Whole Darn Reason For Being There, I still felt like, dang it, I paid money for these tickets. I'm going to this thing!
As I took my seat a guy passed by wearing a shirt that said "Gotterdamnitslong", and there is a general feeling in the audience, not of fatigue exactly, but a general OK, finish line is in sight. Whereas during the first two nights many an audience member wore fabulous outfits, either of the designer or the costume variety, by this time many of us are in jeans or other comfortable clothes. There are a few who continue to wear their horned helmets, dirndls, or other "Escape from Ren Faire" outfits, but they are quickly dwindling.
The music opens and it's beautiful and ethereal and I am struck yet again by the fact that Wagner seems to be the main inspiration for so many film soundtracks. Since movies are what I do, that's how I hear things I guess, but I won't be able to listen to John Williams the same after this experience.
We open on the three Norns, who we've heard about previously but are seeing for the first time. They are daughters of Erda, Mother Nature, and I guess that makes them Brunhilde's half sisters, but that is not relevant here, apparently, just proof that I've been paying attention. The Norns are "reading the rope of destiny" which is really just a fancy way of doing a "Previously on The Ring Cycle..."
The most interesting information we get that's new is about Wotan. We learn how he got that fantastic staff that Siegfried so rudely broke Thursday night. He cut a branch off The World Ash Tree, sacrificing an eye in the process. After he cut off the branch, the huge tree slowly died. Between the magic tree killing, the sister-in-law selling, the incest condoning, the daughter imprisoning-in-fire and generally turning everything he touches to crap, I think Wotan wins the Mr. Burns award for worst dude in charge ever.
Then we move to Siegfried and Brunhilde who are doing some morning after "I'm Diggin on You, You Diggin on Me, We Diggin on We" business, but fancy. Brunhilde is singing a lot about how once she was terrified to lose her Valkyrie powers but now that she knows real love she knows that there's nothing better she could possibly do with her time but sit on this mountain behind a wall of fire waiting for Siegfried to pop in from time to time. It irritates me. But no matter. Brunhilde uses the last of her Valkyrie powers to make Siegfried basically totally invincible. Totally. Kind of.
Siegfried gives Brunhilde the ring as a sign of his love and devotion. Brunhilde give Siegfried her horse Grane, who used to be a super Valkyrie horse but is now just a pretty awesome regular horse. They actually bring a real horse out on stage. The horse is perfectly well behaved and does not do anything inappropriate, just walks on and walks off, which I find a bit disappointing. Siegfried takes Grane and they go off to ride a boat down the Rhine, missing out on a perfect opportunity to use this piece of music, but I suppose "purists" would be "offended".
Meanwhile, down the river, we find ourselves in the palace of King Gunther. Gunther is hanging out with his sister Gurtrune and his half-brother, whose name is Hagen, but let's call him "Omnipotent Machiavellian Narrator", since it quickly becomes apparent that OMN's job is to spill out a ton of info that it makes no sense he knows and encourage people to act on it. We know right away that OMN is evil because he's dressed like the Dread Pirate Roberts. OMN suggests that the best way for King Gunther to become totally awesome is to marry his sister to a Real Awesome Hero, like this guy Siegfried for example. And Gunther should marry this amazing woman OMN knows about who lives on top of a mountain behind a wall of fire.
And Gunther's like SNORT, but fancy, as if HE could climb a mountain and get through a wall of fire. And OMN says what you do is, you get SIEGFRIED to go get this chick, and promise him the hand of your sister as a reward. And I just so happen to have, right here, a little potion that will help convince Siegfried to help us. And, you wouldn't believe this but Siegfried is on a boat and he's heading right this way. And Gunther and Gurtrune think that sounds like an excellent plan and not remotely implausible or strangely intricately thought out.
When Siegfried shows up they give him a drink of this magic potion which makes him forget Brunhilde completely. Then quick as Bob's your uncle they have him signed on to the rest of the plan and drooling over Gurtrune. I have to admit that except for falling in love with Brunhilde, Siegfried has not struck me as remarkably intelligent so far, and this whole bit doesn't help. The plan is that Siggy and Gunther will head over to the mountain. Siggy will use that magic helmet from way back in the beginning which will make him appear to be Gunther, get through the fire and grab Brunhilde.
Meanwhile up on fire mountain, Brunhilde is visited by one of her sisters who is still a Valkyrie. She tells Brunhilde that Valhalla has gone to Suck City lately. After Siggy broke Wotan's staff, Wotan went to The World Ash and cut it down completely. He has filled the halls of Valhalla with the wood from the tree and would have burned the place down already except he tied Loge to this mountain to keep it on fire, and he can't call him back without the staff. Wotan believes that if the ring were returned to the mermaids, the curse of Al the Evil Dwarf would be broken and Valhalla and the gods would be saved. Brunhilde says maybe he should have thought of that before he cast me out, but at this point I don't care. The ring is mine. It's a symbol of my love to Siggy. I will never give it up ever. Her sister leaves.
Then Siggy/Gunther shows up to claim Brunhilde. He steals the ring from her and kidnaps her for Gunther, as Gunther. There's a whole bit about how his sword will lie between them to ensure her virtue, and Siggy is very chuffed with himself that he managed to "win her" while preserving her honor. Lovely.
Meanwhile back at Gunther Palace, we learn that the reason OMN seems to know so much is that he is actually the son of Al the Evil Dwarf. He's on a mission for Daddy to reclaim the ring and the treasure.
I'll be honest, at this point Gotterdammerung starts to feel like the long boring middle part of certain Shakespearean plays, the only question being will the whole mistaken identity bit end in comedy or tragedy. It's opera so I think that's no surprise. There's a double wedding. Brunhilde is devastated to learn Siggy has betrayed her. She insists that they are wed, and swears that he has taken her virtue, which is interesting. He has no memory of her, so he just thinks she's crazy and slutty. In her rage, she tells OMN that Siggy's Achilles Heel is actually his back. Her magic protects his front, but not his back, because he's such a fierce warrior he would never turn his back in battle. It seems like a pretty freaking big omission to me. It's not like, for example, a HEEL. It's an entire back.
After that, Siggy is off in the woods hunting when he comes across some Rheinmaidens frolicking in the river. They flirt a bit, then ask that he give the ring back because it was stolen from the river. He says he won it slaying a dragon and never stole it from a river. They warn him about the curse and he says HE ain't afraid o' no curse. They get frustrated with him and say let's go talk to Brunhilde. She's no idiot.
Then OMN & the rest of the hunting party catch up with him and ask him to share some of his adventure stories, so we get some more Previously on The Ring... Someone asks him about his ability to understand the birds, and he says he hasn't actually heard them in a long time, and you can tell he's sort of getting confused, as if he's realizing some of his memories are gone. Then OMN gives Siggy another drink of the magic potion, and he suddenly remembers Brunhilde was his wife. Then OMN stabs him in the back for being a liar and marrying Gurtrune when he was married to Brunhilde, but really that's an excuse for his evil plot (muh ha ha ha!).
OMN tries to claim the ring, but Gunther fights with him. OMN kills Gunther, but when he reaches for the ring dead Siggy's hand raises up in a warning. Meanwhile Brunhilde has been chatting with the mermaids and knows everything now. She puts the ring on and then demands that Siggy be placed on a funeral pyre. She also makes them put Grane the wonder horse on the fire, and that sucks because what did he ever do? She sings that she knows how to free the gods from the horrible curse, that she will throw herself on the fire and bequeath the ring to the Rhine. She also releases Lodge from fire mountain and instructs him to go to Valhalla and light the place up. Then she walks into the (Offstage! Poop!) fire. OMN tries one last time to grab the ring as it passes from the fire to the Rhine, but he drowns in the Rhine.
And God in Heaven Above that is the END.
Music: 6 I feel blasphemous, but 9 hours of opera with only a few WOW moments for me. There's something about the style, maybe it's Wagner, maybe it's opera, but so much of the singing seemed like "song-aloguing" to me: long monologues in song. I know, for example, when I went to see Carmen, that there were at least a few songs that were beautiful and memorable and I left with them in my head. But honestly the best music I thought was the orchestral pieces, and there was more than one occasion where the orchestra was playing and then someone started singing that I thought, damn, I was enjoying that. So, consider me a peasant I guess.
Nazi Ick Factor: 0 I didn't get any ew, stop, ack from Gotterdammerung. We're definitely not talking Birth of a Nation here. After thinking about it rather intently, I do see that Wagner was dealing with different kinds beings, races if you will, and the idea that the humans, ultimately, would prevail over the gods and the dwarfs, and so there's a suggestion that it's about one race being triumphant. But even that I only got from pondering about it. It didn't jump out at me.
Surprise Plagiarism: Nothing jumped out at me in this one. I was a little surprised with the whole "memory erasing potion" plot. It seemed very Shakespearean, so I point the finger at Wagner for the surprise plagiarism. Of the three I saw, I think it's more than a stretch to say Tolkien stole Lord of the Rings from this. I suppose you could argue that Tolkien was offering another view, where many races worked together to achieve an impossible task, instead of one race dominating the others.
Overall Experience: Beyond numerical value. I'm very glad I did it. Now I know what The Ring is! I'm bummed I was sick and missed one. Perhaps one of these days I'll see if the Library has Siegfried on DVD.