REVIEW: Wagner's Ring Cycle at the Royal Concert Hall proves a memorable experience
Nottingham was the focus for Wagner fans from all around the world last week when the city's Royal Concert Hall staged his four-part musical marathon, the Ring Cycle, in order and in one week just as the composer intended 140 years ago, writes Tony Spittles.
Monday - Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold)
The wow factor of this thrilling story-telling got underway at 7pm as the audience were plunged into the watery world of the River Rhine en-route to Valhalla, fortress home of the gods.
It was also an introduction to an international line-up of Wagnerian singers with Frankfurt-born baritone Jo Pohlheim as Alberich, one of the Nibelung dwarves, getting the whole saga off to a top-gear start when he renounces love to steal the Rhine maidens’ gold and fashion it into the all-powerful ring.
But this quest takes him to uncharted waters as he encounters the Gods - Wotan (London-born baritone Michael Druiett) and Loge (Austrian tenor Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke). They trick him into becoming a dragon and then a toad, after which they capture him and take him to the Gods’ new home, Valhalla.
But Alberich doesn’t give in without a fight and puts a curse on the Ring and all its future owners.
Tuesday - Die Walkure (The Valkyrie)
Day two meant a 3pm start as it introduced audiences to Sieglinde (Scottish soprano Lee Bissett replacing Alwyn Mellors, who had to withdraw from the tour for personal reasons) and Siegmund (ever-busy tenor Mark Le Brocq), the mortal twins born to Wotan. But their adulterous and incestuous and relationship doesn’t go down well with Wotan’s wife, Fricka (Susan Bickley) who demands that Siegmund should be killed.
It was also time to get on board for a high-flying trip with the Valkyries, the nine daughters of Wotan (this time sung by Opera North favourite bass-baritone Robert Hayward taking over from Bela Perencz at short notice) and Erda, wild horsewomen of the air, whose job is to whisk the bodies of dead warriors to Valhalla.
Although it was a long day at the Royal Concert Hall (broken by intervals of half an hour and then a later one of 75 minutes), the hours seemed to fly by to the accompaniment of Wagner’s stirring score.
This included the famous Ride of the Valkyries in Act 3, the Magic Fire music and the face-off between Wotan and his favourite daughter, Brunnhilde, the Valkyrie of the title, sung with fervour and force by American soprano Kelly Cae Hogan taking over the role from Alwyn Mellors.
Thursday - Siegfried
Second of the three, mid-afternoon starts moves the story on 20 years as Siegfried, the son of Siegmund and Sieglinde (sung by Swedish tenor Lars Cleveman in his Opera North debut) refashions the sword broken by his mortal grandfather, Wotan.
The fairy tale feeling of the drama provided a gem of a role in voice and appearance for Alberich’s brother, Mime (American tenor Richard Roberts) whose deceit and determination to make the all-powerful sword rivals that of his charge, Siegfried.
But Siegfried wins the day, slays the dragon, Fafner (Swedish bass Mats Almgren), seizes the ring from the dragon’s hoard and braves the fire to find love and rescue the sleeping Brunnhilde and claim her as his bride.
Saturday - Gotterdammerung (Twilight of the Gods)
Saving the best to the last must have been one of Wagner’s mottos as this is his longest, single opera - all six hours 30 minutes, including two intervals.
This final chapter in the saga - with Estonian tenor Mati Turi reprising his 2013 role as the doomed Siegfried - has resonances of Wotan’s actions in Das Rhinegold, leading to their disastrous and deadly conclusions in one seamless finale that remains memorable and magnificent long after the final notes have sounded.
Besides the high drama, it also has some of the best tunes including the orchestral interlude, Siegfried’s Rhine Journey and Siegfried’s Funeral March (an orchestra played this as Wagner’s coffin was lowered into his grave) and Brunnhilde’s Immolation as she throws herself on her husband’s funeral pyre to purge the curse of the Ring forever.
Photo credit: Clive Barda