Monday 7 November 2022

The Ring begins: music director Ben Woodward introduces the start of Regents Opera's new Ring Cycle

Das Rheingold - Regents Opera
On 13 November 2022, Regents Opera will perform Wagner's Das Rheingold in the Freemasons Hall in Great Queen Street, conducted by Ben Woodward and directed by Caroline Stanton, the first of a yearly instalment of the Ring Cycle which culminates in two complete cycles in 2024.

Regents Opera was formed in 2020 from the amalgamation of Regents Opera and Fulham Opera, and from 2011 to 2014, Fulham Opera put together an innovative staged Ring Cycle that gained 5* reviews, performing two complete Ring Cycles in 2014 with accompaniment from four horns, flute, harp, and four hands at the piano, all with Ben Woodward as musical director.

Here Ben introduces the new Ring Cycle project:

I've been, once again, drawn to Wagner's Ring Cycle, such that it will reach its fiery conclusion a shade over 10 years after we did the last one.  When Fulham Opera did the Ring in 2011-14, it was mainly with my 10 fingers at the piano; I added a flute and a horn for Siegfried, and for Götterdämmerung, we added 4 horns, the same flautist and a harp, and my assistant and I played some of it as a piano duet - Siegfried's Funeral March and the Immolation in particular.

Much though I'd love to have all 100 of Wagner's orchestral pieces, this is neither realistic without an orchestra pit nor a massive budget, so I have spent a huge number of hours since the 2020 lockdown rearranging the whole Ring Cycle for 18 pieces ( plus an extra horn bumper), which, when we found out we were using the Freemasons' Hall, I've added the organ to as well.  It's been a massive undertaking, taking hundreds of hours at my iMac in my office in the roof of our apartment in Berlin, putting all of the notes, long-hand, into Dorico.

We've been hugely lucky to have found partners in the Freemasons, and the use of the Freemasons' Grand Temple right in the heart of Covent Garden, which is just the most extraordinary venue.  The nature of the venue means that we're playing the whole thing almost in the round - specifically on three sides, with the orchestra on the fourth.  I don't know if this will be the first ever Ring Cycle in the round, but it's certainly going to be quite different from either of the other Ring Cycles going on at the (extremely nearby) opera houses.

The in-the-round staging has meant that the task for the singers has been quite different; as I write this, two weeks of rehearsals have happened and, as you don't have to "cheat out" conversations, like you do in a proscenium arch setting, the relationships between the characters have become much more intense, as they simply interact with each other in a very real fashion, and the audience observes, looking in.  So, much as Fulham Opera (now Regents Opera)'s performances to this point have been described as "visceral", and particularly special because of the up-close-and-personal nature of the singers, so this will feel, in the much bigger setting of the Freemasons' Hall.  We're so lucky to be able to use this space, but in a way, it therefore feels like quite a natural up-scaling of our product!

Once again, I am thrilled with my casting of the whole Ring Cycle, which is led the first three operas by Keel Watson.  Keel has been our Falstaff, Dutchman, King Philip, Hans Sachs, as well as Barak and Baron Ochs in orchestral weekends of Frau ohne Schatten and Der Rosenkavalier and has absolutely been one of our greatest assets and supporters since 2014.  Keel is absolutely living and loving the role of Wotan.  He has done Fasolt a number of times in his career, including recently in the Graham Vick Birmingham production, and now, finally he gets to give his Wotan.  He's such an expressive singer, with a voice that can do anything.

The rest of the Rheingold cast are both international and also from quite diverse backgrounds and walks of life.  I've got several singers joining from Berlin; Jillian Finnamore as Woglinde, Calvin Lee as Froh and Craig Lemont Walters as Fafner, as well as Holden Madagame, who also describes himself as a trans ambassador, who is singing the role of Mime.  There is a man who was absolutely born for the stage, such is the joy that radiates off him, even when being beaten to smithereens by Alberich.

Ollie Gibbs one of two cast members who return from the 2014 Fulham Ring, the other will be Philip Modinos as Siegfried, who will now add the elder Götterdämmerung Siegfried to his repertoire.

I seem to spend about as much time raising funding as I do doing anything musical for this project!  I'm thrilled that I have found the funding such that this is a fully professional production paid at equivalent rates to Opera Holland Park, and all of the orchestra are on full professional rate - they have to be, as their parts, amalgamated from those of so many more players, are so much more difficult!

I met director Caroline Staunton in Berlin.  She is a staff director at the Staatsoper there, and also runs a pop-up opera venture.  In October 2020, I got a call asking me to play for an opera evening in a wine bar that she was curating and directing.  This was no aria night.  This was a carefully selected set of scenes with a thread running through it with some astonishing singers - several young artists from the Staatsoper, as well as some of the freelance Berlin folk.  Caroline and I bonded over many, many beers, and became firm friends, and, as we did more of these opera evenings, it became overwhelmingly clear to me how brilliant she is.  When the Berlin lockdown was in full force, we managed to spend several Sunday afternoons with a pair of singers, a soprano and a tenor, working out some scenes, just to keep alive our love of the art form, whilst everything was shut down.

She has just finished assisting Dimitri Tcherniakov on the Berlin Staatsoper's Ring Cycle, and shortly before that, co-directed Tannhäuser at the Hamburg Staatsoper.  She's the real deal.  I'm so pleased I've managed to snap her up and convince her to do this mad project.

Regents Opera presents Das Rheingold on 13, 17 and 19 November 2022, full details from TicketSource

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