Monday 10 October 2005

Wagner and Handel, a director's dream

Friends have just been to see an instalment of Wagner's Ring Cycle at Esbjerg in Denmark and also caught up with the latest instalment of the Ring at Covent Garden, where Siegfried has just premiered. He commented that they had loved the production at Esbjerg, the singers were not always superb; whereas the singing at Covent Garden was superb but they did not like the production, finding it too busy and confusing.

There seems to be some sort of strange parallel between productions of Wagner and productions of Handel's Italian operas. Both need singing of a supremely high order. And in productions of both, good singing is not necessarily going to be combined with clarity of production. There is something about the wide open spaces in both types of opera that causes producers and designers to fill the time with busy silliness, or profound philosophising which does not sit easily on the stage.

Too often in Handel, the producer displays a failure of nerve in the long arias and keeps throwing in entertainment for the audience. Similar problems happen in Wagner, where the immensely long paragraphs can be difficult to sustain; producers often replace good personnen regie with gimickry.

In both cases the most striking productions that I have been to have been the most direct, those without too many axes to grind. Or else those by the few producers who have such brilliant theatrical flair that you will forgive them almost anything.

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