This was a Das Rheingold to explain Der Ring des Nibelungen. The production is bedded in and smooth and the singers are impeccable. Antonio Pappano’s conducting weaves the continuous thread of Wagner’s music smoothly, making it easy for us to understand because he understands The Ring so deeply; his conducting is supportive of the singers so they can give good performances though he has a way of clarifying the musical line which appears to simplify Wagner’s music.
Symbolism abounds in Keith Warner’s production. The world globe is represented by a lattice drawing, which opens out to a square lattice and eventually becomes a lattice cube representation of the magic tarnhelm. This is by no means a bare stage setting, there’s plenty of detail with much clever use of the set and props to emphasise the metaphysical basis of Wagner’s story.
So we have understanding and clarity but we loose magic and the moments of high drama - Freia’s removal, Alberich’s curse, the entry of the gods in to Walhalla - become if not commonplace, at least lacking in the ultimate spine-chilling juju. As The Ring is so big and so expensive for The Royal Opera to mount, a production at Covent Garden is under pressure - maybe self-perceived rather than external - to widen the understanding of their show; but by mounting an “accessible” production they’ve lost a lot of the simple wonder that goes with playing it as a fairy-tale.
Terrifying Shostakovich for my last 2012 Prom: Andris Nelsons memorably conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in Shostakovich’s ‘Leningrad’ Symphony, completed and first performed in 1941, whilst the desperate siege and battle of Leningrad was still being fought.
“Terrifying” because although there is a large orchestra and at times it plays very loudly, the subtext of this symphony about totalitarianism is as clear and relevant today as in 1941: the apparently innocent tune that mutates in to a monster during the course of the first movement. The victory of the last movement that is crushingly bitter-sweet.
Sensitive Saint-Saëns piano playing by Benjamin Grosvenor was the highlight of tonight’s Delius, Saint-Saëns & Tchaikovsky Prom from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. I’d come to hear Charles Dutoit’s conducting but the twenty year-old pianist stole the show.
Practically perfect Mozart Clarinet Concerto and Beethoven Egmont overture from Michael Collins, basset clarinet with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in fine form, conducted by Osmo Vänska.
Vast is the scope of Richard Strauss’s "Ein Heldenleben", vast in emotional gamut and vast in range of orchestral colour. Tonight’s performance was impressive, there must have been detailed preparation. The climaxes were dramatic, the lyrical passages moving and the contrasts effective. The effect overall was intense.