Despite 6 hours** of Wagner feeling like a dubious decision 24 hours in advance, it turned out to be brilliant on the day. Indeed as the end approached I felt that 6 hours was far too short and it needed at least an additional hour. Nor was I alone in thinking so, judging by the comments from audience members near me at the end, and the general riveted silence.
It was a concert performance, being the only way Opera North can afford to do something like the Ring, but it felt as if nothing was lost thereby. Big screens at the back provided surtitles (good ones, thank goodness, no faux archaism. Whatever is lost in not distinguishing between du and Sie is more than gained in not sounding stupid when read in English in performance) and a degree of setting, of riverbank or water, wooden walls of a Dark Ages hall, fiery rock etc, with the aid of some coloured lighting. It doesn't sound much, but it really worked. No singer actually vaulting onto horseback and riding into the flames*** could have been more dramatic than a woman in evening dress standing in front of the orchestra in yellowing light, voice soaring seemingly effortlessly above it. And what an orchestra! I didn't manage an on-stage count, but as an estimate combined with a conservative reading of the programme**** I'd go for about a hundred (and I've just found confirmation - 101!). The orchestra of Opera North is always one of its strengths and this occasion was no exception, they were in magnificent form.
Wagner has a reputation of being hard-core opera. On the train in I was regretting that I hadn't had time to go carefully over leitmotifs etc in order to educate myself sufficiently to appreciate it. Reader, this is rubbish. Bad Wagner is probably incomprehensible torture on grounds of length alone, but good Wagner isn't hard at all. It's wonderful music that while I'm sure it greatly rewards study is very accessible without it and the leitmotifs leap up waving and shouting notice me! Alternatively, possibly I am simply well-trained in the School of Opera North, which has long interwoven Box Office certainties with more inventive repertoire. After all, Wozzeck is not only challenging and allows you to distinguish yourself as a company, it's pretty cheap to do. Back to Götterdämmerung. The plot is perhaps not one of its strength. Wotan doesn't turn up, and we get the new family to move into Eastenders (as the preliminary talk put it, very accurately). Hagen's***** Evil Plot depends entirely on his victims all being complete idiots. Fortunately for him, this is opera, and indeed mythology. It doesn't have to make sense in order to work. Hagen was sung by Mats Almgren looking like an evil thug in a Scandinavian detective drama - the more things change, the more things stay the same - and my favourite along with Kelly Cae Hogan as Brünnhilde.
A wonderful presentation of a wonderful work. I am converted, as you can tell! I wish I might have seen it all, I'm immensely glad I saw this.
Have some music:
*This would explain why each act started 5 mins late, if he was being ushered to his seat in the dark. Perhaps he might have borrowed the rather lovely guide dog I spotted stretched out on the carpet in the bar in the second interval. It's fair to say that Goldie, alone of all the beings I saw there, did not look wholly appreciative and wore a definite air of 'how long, oh lord, how long?'
**To be precise, 4 hours 40 mins of music, the rest intervals. That makes the first act equal in length to Tosca (2 hours), and the whole thing half as long again as an uncut Figaro.
***Now I need to check if that's every been done with (i) actual soprano, (ii) actual horse, (iii) actual flames. Checked! Though the examples mentioned don't specify flames...
****No need for ten anvil-players in this one, but I've never seen so many French horns (apparently some of them are 'Wagner tubas', which he invented because he needed an extra instrument...)
***** I first came across Hagen in my German GCSE textbook, which had a really good cartoon sequence of the Nibelunglied. We didn't read that bit, which tells you everything you need to know about the approach my high school took to engaging pupils in foreign languages.
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