Wednesday, 3 October 2007

The Ring Cycle

UPDATE, 10/10/07: Wow, what a journey the Ring was! Exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure (16 hours of music). When Siegfried died in Gotterdammerung last night I was nearly blown away by the music. Sir John’s Wotan was also exceptional. I do have some quibbles with Warner’s staging, particularly his rather eclectic choices of scenery (are we Victorian or 21st Century?) and dropping of themes by the final instalment, but the Ring is such an overpowering experience that the music and not the staging dominates the senses.

I’ll try and do a longer post, but I already have a play, two Tate Britain exhibitions and a couple of films that I want to write about, and that tally will be increasing daily, so perhaps not.

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To Covent Garden earlier this evening for part 1 (Das Rheingold) of Keith Warner’s staging of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. I’ve seen all 4 parts of this particular cycle before, they were produced individually over the past few seasons, but seeing them together is a much more exciting prospect (I’ve seen 3 complete sets before, but only one was a true cycle, the Scottish Opera production in Edinburgh in 2003).

Taking my seat in the upper slips (I always sit in either row BB or DD, the second of two rows in either side of the upper slips. The leg room is excellent and you can stand up intermittently to relieve the pain of sitting on the un-luxurious bench and also see 99% of the deep stage) I was struck by the sense of occasion, several people in the stalls and grand tier had even worn black tie and evening dress (a rare-ish occurrence even at the grad Royal Opera House). The fact that I’ll be sitting next to the same people three more times in the coming week is also somewhat unique, and a tad perturbing seeing as the man sitting next to me is a rather noisy nose breather (whistling!), but that is only really problematic during the very quiet passages (though they are some of my favourites and the most moving, like the beginning of Rheingold or the end of Walkure).

I’ll report back on the cycle after I’ve seen it all next week, but so far so good. Despite getting Sir John Tomlinson (who is very good) and not Bryn Terfel (he pulled out several weeks ago) as Wotan (‘The Great War Father’), I was very contented on leaving the opera house into a night which was rather right for the mood of the piece. The concept and design has previously been my problem with this production (and the last ENO production too), but the modernistic lab and sleek black living room grew on me this time. A friend who saw the preview cycle (I’m attending cycle one) says that the concept worked far better this time, especially in a concentrated period. I wonder if many changes have been made, but I can’t recall anything major being much different (but then I am remembering a production of a few years ago, and I have seen rather a lot of theatre and opera since!).

Seeing a complete staging of the greatest of operas is a privilege and an event to remember for life. I’m always totally blown away by the extraordinary music, it seem eternally fresh and startling to me, plus hearing opera live is a far greater experience than on disk or on television, it is really incomparable.

The joint programme was £15, as opposed to the usual price of £6 each, so a saving of £9 over the cycle. I don’t usually buy Royal Opera House programmes, though there are beautifully produced and a great, substantial read, but for the Ring I made an exception.

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