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Opera review: Wagner's Ring – Fifteen hours of glorious music | Theatre | Entertainment
Published On: Thu, Oct 11th, 2018

Opera review: Wagner’s Ring – Fifteen hours of glorious music | Theatre | Entertainment


It is quite unlike anything else, especially when performed with such vigour and expertise as is currently being displayed at the Royal Opera House.

The Ring Cycle, unlike Wagner’s other operas, many of which are epics in their own right, is a four-part mini-series, telling a tale loosely based on Old Norse mysths.

In fact, just as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is an invention based on old myths, Wagner’s is a grown-up version of even greater imagination, also centred on a magical ring that conveys power and disaster on its owner. 

I once calculated that if you read Tolkien’s Hobbit and the three volumes of Lord of the Rings at a page a minute, it takes just one minute longer than watching Wagner’s Ring, and thanks to the energy of the music, the Wagner has even fewer dull moments. 

The Royal Opera House is to be congratulated on assembling a superb cast for its first production of the Ring since 2012.

The opening opera, Das Rheingold, was beautifully sung, but the acting seemed to me to be rather muted, with nobody assertive enough to stamp their character on any role.

Even John Lundgren as Wotan, king of the gods, was a little understated. 

However, I need not have worried: the great Swedish Wagnerian soprano Nina Stemme came into the story as Wotan’s daughter, the Valkyrie Brünnhilde, in part two, Die Walküre, and the rest of the cast seemed to be lifted by her performance.

Wagner singers are a breed apart: quite apart from the stamina demanded for such long operas, they need the power to sing at a volume matching that of the orchestra, and Wagner’s music is packed with powerful sounding brass instruments.

Stemme has it all: quite apart from the vitality and endurance demanded of her, she can turn up the volume with no deterioration in voice quality.

With her belting out the music, the rest of the cast were lifted to give their best performances all the way through to Götterdämmerung, the twlight of the Gods, in the final opera.

German tenor Stefan Vinke is superb as the hero Siegfried, and after his hesitant start to the cycle, John Lundgren was a brilliant Wotan, particularly in the scenes he shared with Stemme.

Also Stephen Milling and Markus Butter put in fine performances as the villains Hagen and Gunther. 

To add to all the glorious singing, the conductor Antonio Pappano was perhaps the hardest working of all, conducting the Royal Opera House Orchestra with commendable vigour and a true understanding of the music, while the director Keith Warner and set designer Stefanos Lazaridis  combined to create an impression as strong as the music but never going too far. 

The performance of Die Walküre on October 28 will be relayed live to cinemas worldwide.

For anyone wanting to dip their toes into the Wagner ocean, this is a great opportunity to see and hear it at full blast.

It may be only a quarter of the full cycle, but it is the best part and featured the best-known music in the Ride of the Valkyries.

The second of four cycles of Der Ring Des Nibelungen finished this week.

The third cycle begins next Tuesday, October 16.

Tickets: roh.org.uk or 020 7304 4000

For details of cinema performances, see roh.org.uk/cinema.



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Opera review: Wagner’s Ring – Fifteen hours of glorious music | Theatre | Entertainment