It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. In the pandemic-inspired Twilight: Gods, the experimentalist Yuval Sharon lit one figurative candle and 2,880 battery-operated ones. The show premiered in October 2020 in Detroit, where Sharon had taken over as artistic director of Michigan Opera Theatre the month before. The hour-long film version documents a reboot in the Windy City, home to that company’s coproducer for the project, Lyric Opera of Chicago.
What serendipity for Chicago! In the snakebit spring of 2020, the Lyric had lost a new Götterdämmerung, along with cycles of Richard Wagner’s full Ring des Nibelungen. With smoke and mirrors, Twilight: Gods sort of brought it all back. Strung together from perhaps 50 minutes’ worth of material from Götterdämmerung, which is the fourth and final leg of the “Ring”marathon, Sharon’s précis encapsulates not just that grand finale but the entire epic. For the purposes of narrative distillation, it helps that Wagner repeats himself. Often.
Sharon’s chosen vignettes unfolded along a route through the oppressive yet majestic galleries of a multi-acre parking garage. Drivers navigated the maze in mini convoys at three miles an hour, stopping to watch self-contained segments through their windshields and listen to them on their car radios.
In place of Wagner’s faux-Norse German, they heard Sharon’s lucid English translations. In place of the original orchestrations for over 100 players, they heard arrangements by Edward Windels, who proved a wizard, tracing out the interstellar fields of Wagner’s cosmos in sounds and silences of an 18-piece ensemble. Thus Twilight: Gods contrived to keep the torch of opera alive for cognoscenti, even as it attempted something bolder besides. For each iteration of the show, a local poet wrote and recited new glosses linking Wagner’s long-ago-and-far-away to the powder-keg realities of marginalized communities in the here and now. In Chicago, the shamanic role fell to avery r. young—no capitals for him—a polymath of frenzied sincerity.
Home viewers may be mystified by young’s harangues, but for the rest, the signal of Twilight: Gods comes through loud and clear. Accompanied by a single cello (this is Windels at his best), Catherine Martin penetrates the gloom as the desperate Valkyrie Waltraute. The Dark Side materializes in the form of the brutish Hagen (Morris Robinson, sounding tremendous), haunted in dreams by his father Alberich, who forged the Ring that rules the world and lost it (Donnie Rae Albert, sounding frazzled). Siegfried’s banter with a subpar trio of prophetic Rhine Maidens goes for little, but his dying vision, lovingly delivered by Sean Panikkar, strikes a hymnic chord.
On to Siegfried’s Top 40 Funeral March, with all those candles. To close, America’s reigning Brünnhilde, Christine Goerke herself, dispatches the roof-raising Immolation Scene and rides to fiery death not on horseback, as Wagner requested, but in a red Mustang convertible. In a garage, it works.
Twilight: Gods is available on the Lyric Opera of Chicago Web site through October 29
Matthew Gurewitsch writes about opera and classical music for AIR MAIL. He lives in Hawaii