Wagner: Götterdämmerung & this Ring cycle

Prom 20

Wagner: Götterdämmerung

Nina Stemme soprano (Brünnhilde)
Andreas Schager tenor (Siegfried)
Mikhail Petrenko bass (Hagen)
Gerd Grochowski baritone (Gunther)
Anna Samuil soprano (Guntrune/ Third Norn)
Johannes Martin Kränzle baritone (Alberich)
Waltraud Meier mezzo-soprano (Waltraute/ Second Norn)
Margarita Nekrasova mezzo-soprano, Proms debut artist (First Norn)
Aga Mikolaj soprano (Woglinde)
Maria Gortsevskaya mezzo-soprano (Wellgunde)
Anna Lapkovskaja mezzo-soprano, Proms debut artist (Flosshilde)

Royal Opera Chorus
Staatskapelle Berlin
Daniel Barenboim conductor

Sunday 28 July
I've had to wait some time before I can write about the final installment of the Ring cycle I saw at the Proms way back in July.  Autumn is here now and time lends perspective of a sort but I think the real perspective will come in future listening, future writing and future thinking about Wagner and his special gift.

I have come only to a few conclusions that work for now, I have no means of summing up to be honest - the effect was overwhelming and remains so astonishing, deep seated and life changing I'd probably need a million words to describe how I'm different now to how I was before this venture.

So for what they are worth:-

1) I was privileged to hear some of the greatest voices of our day in this cycle and this opera alone contained singing and acting of the highest order from Schager, Petrenko, Kränzle and Meier.  I doubt that such strong a cast will be heard again in London in the next 30 years....

2) And then there was Nina Stimme - what a voice and what a presence and what an actress.  No one should miss her Brünnhilde.  It hit the highest reaches of the Royal Albert Hall and fill our hearts with its story. Her sound is as beautiful as it is strong and her interpretation as straightforward and obvious as a great Shakespearean.

3) Barenboim - unerring dramatic pacing was perhaps the biggest surprise.  He is a smouldering presence on the podium and doesn't set the music ablaze too early or too often. When he does set the music alight he does it in the service of the composer.  There is a slow build here - it is not a reading that flares in Rheingold with the same intensity as Valhalla burns. But in this opera where Godly greed turns into a distinctly more human kind of treachery he subtly turns the music from one kind of exaltation to another.  He remains a marvellous symbol of what a musician can be off the podium - but let us never forget how very effective he can be on it - compelling, acutely measured and passionate

4) Wagner's incredible sense of drama unparalleled I suspect in most art, seems to me to be more surprising for the fluidity of time he creates.  In Tristan the moment drags on and on and the lead up to the moment seems calculated - despite now having seen it all in one gulp.  The Ring is uniquely complex and simple: it feeds the domestic, the emotional and the spiritual, the animal and the philosophical.  Whilst listening to this series of musical arches, I was taken back to Robert McKee's book Story on screenwriting and his simple formulae for success.  Wagner follows all of those story-making maxims and as one might expect his punch is all the more weighty for the 14 or so hours of anticipation and audience manipulation.

5) A point too about opera at the proms - and it may be an obvious one.  At this venue - in the configuration for the Proms - the place of orchestra and singers relative to the audience is reversed - singers stood immediately in front of audience (guided in some cases by a row of monitors showing Barenboim's conducting low in front of the Prommers).  This brought great immediacy - that those audience members were standing would I think mean greater sense of contact.  The RAH allows for one of the biggest audiences in the country - 5500 or so.  Those people stood or sat in silence for so much of the quiet music as an audience member there were times when you hardly thought them there.  The concentration - the mass act of study - was enormous and yet this for an art that is said to be dying.  I read that the singers feed off that.  I know that the audience did and feel privileged to be part of the creation of a legendary Ring Cycle.

6) And there are ovations and there are OVATIONS...I've been to some big and extremely partisan football matches - high stakes, escape acts, thousands of supporters.  In these places when a goal comes along the roar is visceral.  During this cycle the ovations each night were mighty.  But on the last night the reception for the artist's was immense and prolonged.  Hard to capture but most especially powerful because the Ring cycle ends softly and the audience remained silent until the conductor lowered his arms.  In that short span of time (as stupid as it sounds I'm not even sure that's the right word), or something like time stood still but applied a every weight to our emotions.

Here is the curtain call for Hagen, Siegfried and most irruptive of all Stimme's Brunnhilde (with no apology for my camera work)

7) In 2012 Barenboim conducted a wonderful cycle of Beethoven symphonies and major works by Boulez with the West East Divan Orchestra.  At the end of cycle he heaped praise on the BBC for it's vision and encouraged us to cherish the institution (a message no doubt ignored by those who have knocked the Corporation at every turn since then).  But we didn't know then what we know now.  The BBC had broadcast two live Ring cycles in the 12 months to July 2013 (one from the Metropolitan Opera in New York and a home grown one from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden).  But that the BBC planned it's own Ring, streamed across the world via multi-media, accessible to millions, broadcast in high quality sound, supplemented by programmes exploring every side of Wagner's master work.  This is what the BBC does best.  I was thankful for the Boulez/Beethoven - it was a good thing.  This Ring was a great thing and we have the BBC to thank for this major musical landmark which will be talked about for many years to come - not just because of it's audacious vision but also because of it's outstanding quality.

8) I can say little about the performance - Götterdämmerung has for a long time been my least favourite of these operas perhaps most of all because it is closer to home.  Schager did convince me that Siegfried's end was brought about by either gross naivety or chronic self-preoccupation.  And Stimme was equally humane in her depiction of Brunnhilde's emotional roller coaster. The orchestra were faultless with all players taxed through this long work but glorious in it's final acts.  It's still sinking in - a sensual overload that might last me until the next time I hear a Ring Cycle.

9) Some things have to be left unsaid about this music because it is music. Some people will be unmoved by this art work.  Antagonistic against it's creator and wary of it's grip.  I will return to it a little wiser about this crazy and often cruel adventure, its place in opera, operas place in drama and musics place in both.  I may write about it some more too one day.  For now here are the three other operas in this account, it seems suitably circular to take you back to the beginning from here.

Die Walkure

And finally there's the tunnel to the underground


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