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Inside Opera: The Ring


Opera North with Royal Northern College of Music
Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester

Götterdämmerung -Giselle Allen as Gutrune, Mati Turi as Siegfried, Mats Almgren as Hagen, Andrew Foster-Williams as Gunther and Kelly Cae Hogan as Brünnhilde Credit: Clive Barda

Even for the devotee, Wagner’s fifteen-hour Ring Cycle is dense, complex and demanding on the stamina of performers and audiences.

Opera North’s “Inside Opera” event (here, in conjunction with the Royal Northern College of Music)—itself no small commitment at 3+ hours—is a welcome offering to those whose commitment to the experience includes a desire to comprehend and appreciate more fully the achievement of the creator of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus.

The presentation, appropriately enough in three “acts”, opens with ON’s Martin Pickard guiding us through the workings of the leitmotifs (or hauptmotiv as the master called them).

The contrast between Wagner’s demand for an uninterrupted flow of music, where orchestra and voice work together to greater dramatic effect, and the approach of contemporaries such as Verdi (where the story fits around and serves the arias, which themselves punctuate the narrative) is neatly presented by Paul Gibson's moving rendition of Verdi’s aria, “Di Provenza il mar, il suol chi dal cor ti cancellò?” (La Traviata having had its première the year before Das Rheingold was completed—1853, 1854). In addition to Gibson, Sarah Estill also lends able vocal illustration to Pickard's presentation.

In “act two”, Howard Booth of the University of Manchester gives a brief, witty and informative lecture on Wagnerian influences in literature and the arts. Illustrations of the “dangers” of Wagner by Aubrey Beardsley lead nicely into a discussion of E M Forster’s Howards End.

As act one prefigured, Wagner lies between disintegration and construction (having begun the Ring Cycle in response to the revolutions of 1848-49). One is reminded of Yeats’s lament that "the centre cannot hold" (“The Second Coming”, 1919).

After a brief interval, “act three” offers a panel discussion including contributions from Pickard, composer David Horne and Yvonne Howard ("Howard" obviously being the secret password for today’s event). This particular Howard is currently delighting in the role of Frikka in ON’s highly-rated, filmic mounting of the Cycle. She speaks, with an artist’s wonder and joy, of "riding the wave" of Wagner’s orchestration.

I confide that all in attendance will confront Götterdämmerung with refreshed vigour and enhanced understanding. £10 well invested, if you have the chance.

Reviewer: Martin Thomasson