Fine, fine music from the pit. Antonio Pappano letting the music breathe and giving the singers space to sing beautifully. Measured performances from the principal singers in Act 1 - Götterdämmerung is long and demanding.
But boy is this production emphasising the gloom and the sorrow. The end of the world is nigh almost before Siegfried has left Brünnhilde’s rock. The dawn on the same rock was pretty drab too. Siegfried’s usually glorious Act 1 duet with Brünnhilde was sunny but it didn’t set me alight with their joy. Siegfried’s journey down the Rhine (at last a transition where the production tried harder than video clouds) was literal, perhaps with echoes of the skeletal glass architecture of Frankfurt am Main railway station, but the video was a gloomy black and white affair, hardly a glorious journey after a night of heroic passion. Indeed Siegfried in this production seems very much a victim of events rather than the hero above all heroes.
The Valkyrie Waltraute turns up and the gloom gets monumental. Brünnhilde still in black. So much for the Prologue and Act 1. The setting is very much symbolic but to my mind doesn’t hang together. The Gibichung hall resembles the skeleton cube Tarnhelm and the transition video emphasises that. But Brünnhilde’s rock uses the same imagery, maybe a staging necessity but it’s just confusing and certainly not clarifying.
But the music and singing are fantastic with no signs of the dodgy ensemble on the previous night. If it was a problem with a video relay of the conductor then it had been fixed.
One of the plot features is the betrothal of Siegfried and Brünnhilde which is balanced by the blood brotherhood of Siegfried and Gunther. You might expect some closeness of body language but there didn’t seem any between either couple, indeed the staging of Siegfried and Gunther’s oath was almost deliberately oppositional.
Act 2 though was where the innovative staging paid off. The hall of the Gibichung was lit with warm and radiant light and the set featured glowing gold statues. Why was it warm and glowing, especially when the music is specifically from a different and intentionally ambiguous tonality? I’m really not getting the colour continuity of this Ring: blue for water and Rhinemaidens, green for Niebelungs, red for fire but the same red for the rope of the Norns and also later on the symbolic ascent of the immortals following Brünnhilde’s immolation.
The platform of the revolve served almost symbolising a fight ring, with Louis XV chairs in the four corners; a nice idea though it didn’t completely work because most of the drama ends up split in three ways not four.
Siegfried dressed in radiant white - the innocent or for his first wedding? But is he innocent at that point? Yes, but only as he has been drugged then tricked, but I had thought the usual interpretation is that he regains his innocence with the drink of remembrance in the next act, meaning that he is tarnished at the point of his wedding to Gutrune. In Act 3 Brünnhilde says Siegfried was faithful to his brother and untrue to his bride (which could be taken as Wagner’s view). So this seems to be another example of a radical opposite interpretation proposed by this production.
So an infuriating contrast between Acts 1 and 2, but typical of this Ring cycle: the gains are mostly with regard to dramatic explanation and they are superficial compared to the depth of the music.
And by now the game of leitmotif bingo is almost over... Act 3 was, by the standards of this production, staged relatively conservatively and literally. Siegfried’s Funeral march was left dark on stage so the orchestra was able to give particularly heartfelt, rousing and memorable performance, their easy familiarity with the leitmotifs giving the section a heroic and touching performance. Perhaps not as chilling as some recordings - I'm thinking of Goodall's with the ENO.
The threads of the story came to a relatively conventional resolution after starting with one of the convincing front video projections of spirals representing the waters of the Rhine. And lots of real fire, though the waters of the Rhine were rather less well represented although clearly represented in the score and important to the story and the symbolic purification and rebirth.
Numerous curtain calls and then the tabs parted to reveal a good part of the orchestra on stage with Antonio Pappano; which triggered a tumultuous and sustained standing ovation, rare compliment from this usually restrained audience. I think they made it clear the feeling was we had heard a great Ring even if where was a lot of discussion, nay hesitation, about this particular production realisation by Keith Warner.
What would be really radical for the next production is a literal, naturalistic production, i.e. back to the composer’s original intentions. It might be more self-consistent because the composer envisaged a literal production and certainly get away with nonsense like people in suits swearing on spear points and ordering the slaughter and bloody sacrifice of oxen. That stuff belongs in the forest.
This was indeed a production to explain the Ring but in doing so, it lost the magic and it didn't find any great revelations. Some of the production symbolism was trite compared to the complex undercurrents of Wagner's musical leitmotifs which weave their spells on many levels. But most disappointing of all, this wasn't a Ring which moved me emotionally, long on cleverness but short on emotion. But I adored the singing and the orchestra.
Director Keith Warner
Set designs Stefanos Lazaridis
Costume designs Marie-Jeanne Lecca
Lighting design Wolfgang Göbbel
Original Movement Director Claire Glaskin
Video Mic Pool
Video Dick Straker
Associate Set Designer Matthew Deely
Conductor Antonio Pappano
First Norn Maria Radner
Second Norn Karen Cargill
Third Norn Elisabeth Meister
Brünnhilde Susan Bullock
Siegfried Stefan Vinke
Gunther Peter Coleman-Wright
Gutrune Rachel Willis-Sørensen
Hagen John Tomlinson
Waltraute Mihoko Fujimura
Alberich Wolfgang Koch
Wellgunde Kai Rüütel
Woglinde Nadine Livingston
Flosshilde Harriet Williams
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House