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Golden ring 'Goetterdaemmerung' is worth the time

Too many people are afraid of "Goetterdaemmerung." For one thing, it's Wagner. For another, there's that word (the English translation, "The Twilight of the Gods," is so much more user-friendly). Finally, the work is 5 1/2 hours long, and folks tend to say that's too long.

Reconsider, I say. Let's be honest -- lots of people pass 5 1/2 hours every day on the couch, watching TV. They don't think twice about it.

Besides, 5 1/2 hours is a small investment to make for the experience of a lifetime.

As in "Die Walkuere" and "Siegfried," the two dramas of "The Ring of the Nibelungs" that came first, the acting is tight and gripping, and the vocals strong and impressive.

Frances Ginzer is, again, Brunnhilde. Always good, she seems to have, incredibly, blossomed even more in the role. In the ecstatic, glorious love duet near the start of "Goetterdaemmerung," she radiates the feeling of a woman in love.

The chemistry between Ginzer and Christian Franz, who played Siegfried last year, too, has also improved. Ginzer, a mighty veteran of the Bayreuth Festival, has a Pillsbury Doughboy look. I know, looks aren't everything, and many a Siegfried has been doughier. Still, it's a tribute to his art and to Ginzer's that, as the hours pass, you forget appearance. Their commitment to the drama and mastery of the music are that convincing.

Now for the bad guys. Just as last year's "Siegfried" benefited from a terrific Mime (Robert Kunzli), "Goetterdaemmerung" shines with a great Hagen, sung by Swedish bass Mats Almgren.

Tall and muscular, with a shaved head, Almgren dominated even before he opened his mouth. His barrel bass, hauntingly resonant, seemed to conjure up an otherworldly time and place. He turned the scene in which he summons the Gibichungs -- who, like him, appeared in business suits -- into the eeriest scene in the opera.

In a tremendously feral feat, Almgren leapt like a tiger onto a waist-high platform. Siegfried, not surprisingly, got up on the platform the way anyone would -- bottom first, then feet. Right then, you knew who would win.

The end was devastating.

"Goetterdaemmerung" is, more than anything, a tragic love story. "Brunnhilde! Heilige Braut!," the shattering moment when the spell is lifted and Siegfried remembers Brunnhilde, is overpowering in its emotion. Brunnhilde's decision to join him on his funeral pyre is the lament of a woman who, though born divine, is now human beyond doubt. In the end, the "Ring" isn't about gods, warriors and heroes. It's about us.

The chorus is splendid. The orchestra, led by Canadian Opera Company General Director Richard Bradshaw, is excellent.

The production touches on modern times in a way that isn't always inspired. The Hall of the Gibichungs is a boardroom with computer monitors. Grays dominate. Lights pierce. And the network of wires strung across the stage made me think of the 190 near Niagara Falls, with all those power lines.

Though the pieces came together OK, this drab approach can be needlessly draining.

Why be so afraid to add color or visual appeal? Heck, there's no shame in a traditional staging. We live in the age of Harry Potter and "The Lord of the Rings." Castles and tunics are in.

Just as you don't have to reinvent the wheel, you don't have to reinvent the "Ring." It's holding up just fine on its own.


WHAT: "Goetterdaemmerung"

WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday, Tuesday and next Friday; 2 p.m. Feb. 12

WHERE: Presented by the Canadian Opera Company at the Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts, 1 Front Street East, Toronto

TICKETS: $50 to $195 (Canadian funds)

INFO: (416) 363-6671


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