Thursday 14 July 2005

Memories of Twighlight of the Gods

Well, it has finally happened, I have finished my listening to the complete Barenboim Ring; no doubt my review will appear in time, I'll keep you posted. Twighlight of the Gods was the first instalment of the Ring that I saw, one very hot Saturday afternoon (it started at 4pm) at the Opera House in Manchester. Reginald Goodall was conducting English National Opera, Rita Hunter played Brünnhilde and Jean Cox played Siegfried. We were high up in the Gods and sweltered for the 6 hours or so that the opera lasted.

Though sung in English, all the words did not make it up to the Gods so I was quite often bewildered by what was going on; the amount of narrative in the opera makes it difficult to appreciate as mere spectacle. But something did grab me; there are still one or two moments that I remember. Most notably, Brünnhilde's entrance into the Gibichung Hall after her capture by Siegfried as Gunther. Despite her size and tendency to not move unless necessary, there was something extremely expressive about Hunter's acting. She could use her face and hands to stunning effect. As she entered, her face, whirring hands and arms made a vivid impression and few subsquent stagings of this scene touch what is probably just an erratic memory

The other moment is not from the staging itself, but afterwards when the Opera House errupted - it was the completion of the first complete Ring to be staged in Manchester since Beecham and his company. When Hunter took her bow she waved her forearms in the air like a wrestler, it seemed such an appropriate gesture for such a towering performance

It was the ending again that was most memorable in Götz Friedrich's first Ring at Covent Garden. The stage had become increasingly cluttered as the action moved from the world of the Gods to the world of men, but for the Immolation scene, Friedrich cleared things away leaving just Gwynneth Jones on a bare stage with a huge grille at the back burning away. It was pricely, giving Jones all the space she needed to create a huge impression. Despite my admiration for Rita Hunter, it was Jones who I saw in my first complete Ring and she was still a wonderful performer, a supremely dramatic artist even if, occasionally, she could not make her huge voice do exactly what she wanted; but she always delivered at the big moments

Most other final moments of the Ring have been a little disappointing. The Hungarian State Opera's take on it was rather novel, if a little taxing for the soprano. It took place inside the castle courtyard, but the funeral pyre was outside the castle, glimpsed by us through the castle gates. This entailed much running on and off stage for Brünnhilde as each time she had to do something to the pyre, fetch her horse etc, the director had to hurry her off stage. But it seemed to work and the soprano delivered a noble performance despite much running about. Then, when the Rhine invaded the entire front half of the castle descended into the bowels of the stage, a truly fabulous effect; leaving the ruins to be played upon by the laser-effect Rhine from the opening. Priceless

Now, all I have to do is review the highlights DVD of the Harry Kupfer Bayreuth staging which goes with the Ring box set. I hope it lives up to the memories.

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