Opera North Ring Cycle on Southbank – thoughts

Last week Opera North’s much-praised Ring Cycle came to the Royal Festival Hall, and I cleared the decks to go to all four performances.  This was a “fully staged concert version,” with a triptych of screens at the back of the stage showing video images, surtitles and some essential plot lines. The mimimalist dramatic realisation – with no props – left me wanting more, although nature did intervene to bring us a rainbow  at the South Bank during Friday’s first interval. A fast track to Valhalla perhaps?

Wotan's Rainbow

Inevitably this concept placed more emphasis on the music, with the Orchestra of Opera North on the stage rather than underneath it.  The conductor was Opera North’s music director Richard Farnes whose reading of the score was outstanding.  He leaves the company after 12 years at the helm, and he will be much missed; no-one has a bad word to say about him. And while the pick and mix cast could be disorientating – there were three different Wotans – maybe this was always going to be the nature of the beast, and we had an outstanding Brünnhilde in Kelly Cae Hogan.

This way of putting on the Ring also made it possible for Opera North to tackle this huge work in the first place; apart from anything else, none of its usual theatres have pits big enough to accommodate an orchestra of this vast size.

So what of Wagner’s score? Last week was a reminder that Wagner’s tetralogy is so much more powerful when heard in one go rather than in separate instalments.  In particular I was gripped by the way the harmonic language of the Ring deepens over time – not only because of the unfolding tragedy of the drama, but the fact that the score was written over a twenty-year time span.  Take for example what he does with the Rhinemaidens’ Rheingold motif: as the drama heads towards its conclusion in Götterdämmerung, the harmonies have become dark, twisted, and shocking.

Rheingold motif

This was one of my occasional Classic Discovery projects in which I team up with Olivia Lacey of the Feast of  Reason supper club. In the past our joint projects have taken us to the LSO at the Barbican, to the LPO at the Festival Hall, and to hear Márta and  György Kurtág in concert. These events aim to be both interesting and sociable; on this occasion I set the scene for the Ring by giving talks before or during each performance, and thanks to Olivia we enjoyed a picnic to die for in a bar on level 4.

IMG_7275As ever there was a really interesting group of people to get to know and exchange ideas with, from Wagner newbies to veterans of many Ring Cycles.  And diaries permitting we are planning to do something similar in the summer of 2017.  If you’d like to join us, contact Olivia directly via the Feast of Reason webpage and she’ll be delighted to send you more information.