Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Ring from a distance

I'm almost sorry I decided not to revisit the Royal Opera Ring, currently running as a festive sequence for the first time: almost, because three instalments of Keith Warner's incoherent vision seemed like quite enough at the time. Rheingold worked best: it's a box of tricks, and the more ideas you throw at it the better it seems to thrive. But as soon as Warner came to the one-to-ones, the electricity and communication between the singers seemed to be swamped on the cluttered stage. Until then, I'd never sat through Walkure or Gotterdammerung unmoved. There were problems with the far from ideal ebb and flow of Pappano's choppy conducting - he's been so wonderful in nearly everything else he's done at the Opera House, and really has set it on the crest of a wave - and Lisa Gasteen's Brunnhilde: she has a gleaming mid-range which explains why she got the part, but nothing up top, though she sometimes disguises it well. And then there was Bryn, so fine in Rheingold, so taxed and tired out in Walkure that on the night I went he had to mark Wotan's farewell.

All that changed when Terfel family fortunes, we're told, led to his cancellation this time round. If he really pulled out to tend to a son in need, that's admirable in a way. But whatever the circumstances, in sweeps John Tomlinson, the most athletic and extraordinary Wotan at Bayreuth in the early nineties - if I never get to go there again, the experience of that stunning Kupfer Ring will be enough to last me a lifetime - and now a grand old man at 62. I'm told he brings wisdom and world-weariness to the part at Covent Garden, even if at times he strains for the high notes, on which he worked so hard at Bayreuth. When I last saw him singing Act 3 of Walkure in concert a couple of years ago with Petra Lang, the inspirational Ivan Fischer conducting, he went so red in the face that one feared he was about to have a stroke; but the tears still flowed. A singer friend of mine who's pally with Lisa Gasteen says how much confidence she's gained from working with an experienced Wotan; Bryn's nervous first time around communicated unease to all concerned, even if it didn't show to the audience.

We had our own proto-Wagnerian experience in the class last night, which I devoted mostly to the Orestes-Pylades scene in Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride, and especially to the monologue in which he believes that calm has returned, but the syncopated violas tell him otherwise: not surprising that Berlioz went crazy about it, claiming every single note in every part absolutely essential. I'm coming to love this music more and more, especially those simple but piercing arias for Iphigenie in Act 1 and Pylade in Act 2. We'll now spend a total of five weeks on it instead of the four I'd planned - making a more fair balance between Gluck and Britten. Whether Owen Wingrave will survive the shift, I don't know, but I have my doubts about it, especially alongside Turn of the Screw, which will have the lion's share of the second half of term.

Great pleasure to be had from the 'Wigmore Live' recording of Schubert's ineffable 'Shepherd on the Rock'. Ailish Tynan may not be Margaret Price, but she invests her delivery with such effervescence and urgency that one's quite won over. What a contrast with the placid, slightly narcissistic delivery of new white hope Kate Royal on her debut disc. Communication's the thing.

No comments: