What a week! I've long been a big fan of Wagner's work and this year marks the bicentenial of his birth, which has given me a fantastic opportunity to get stuck into some music. Most notably, the proms has been offering a veritable banquet of Wagner. It's rare for quality productions of Wagner's later work to be performed in full because of their length and difficulty. It's rarer still for the two most extreme such works to be performed in a single week by an all-star cast with the low barrier to entry (and cost!) offerred by the Proms.
This is the first time I've ever been to the proms but I think I've now made up for my earlier absences. Over the last week I have seen:
By my reckoning, that means I've spent approximately 29 hours in the Royal Albert Hall over the last 7 days.
Das Rheingold ****
I didn't have a score or libretto with me for this performance, having neglected to buy a programme on the way in. It was nice to be able to focus on the music but looking back I think it would have been better to be following along as I did with the other Operas of the week.
Die Walküre *****
This was quite simply, one of the best classical music concerts I've ever seen. The cast was superb, the Orchestra incredible. Barenboim was amazing the whole way through. Watching him you get the sense that he is coaxing the perfect performance out of everyone involved. I particularly liked that he conducted the first act from memory - not even opening the score on his stand in a piece of superb showboating.
Wotan and Brünnhilde stood out all the way through and their final scene was far beyond my ability to praise.
I remember finding this one fairly hard going when I first saw the Ring Cycle performed, years ago. This time the minutes sailed by and the end arrived far too soon. By any sensible measure this would have been an incredible concert but I don't think it was at the lofty hights that Walküre reached.
Tristan und Isolde ***
I really love Tristan und Isolde. That wikipedia page will tell you all about the Opera's pivotal role in the history of Western Music. Even the first chord heard in the Prelude has its own (far from trivial) Wikipedia page. This is the third time I've seen Tristan und Isolde performed and each time I take new things away from the experience. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance.
With that out the way, I didn't think that this was an amazing version. The orchestra were technically very good but it was like they were recording an instrumental version, so poor was their attention to the singers. Tristan was well sung but Robert Dean Smith's voice didn't have the power to cut through the orchestra, or to match Violeta Urmana's Isolde in their duets.
I don't think Götterdämmerung was quite as good as Die Walküre days before, but this concert was astounding. Beyond being an incredible version of a wonderful Opera, it represented the culmination of the week's drama.
Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde deserves special mention here. Her character is perhaps the true hero of the story and Stemme's performances all week did the character justice.
I feel very priviledged to have been a part of this Ring Cycle. I get the sense that this was really something special. The final seconds of silence at the end of Götterdämmerung were extremely emotional. Barenboim's hands held aloft for what must have been 10 or 15 seconds but felt like years before lowering them to rapturous applause from the audience. The enthusastic applause went on for perhaps 20-30 minutes pausing only at Barenboim's behest for a touching speech from him.
On an artistic level I am lucky to have seen such an incredible performance of the Ring Cycle. More broadly, I'm delighted that I could be part of this Proms premier. I've always thought of the Proms as being a pop-classical festival but attempting to perform a Ring Cycle in a week shows that this most certainly isn't the case. More than that, the audience all seemed to be enjoying it as much as I. There's much written about the incredible standard of this production but there are also a lot of mentions of the quality of the audience. Watching the Ring cycle is a huge endeavour and I noticed a lot of familiar faces in the audience for Tristan und Isolde as well. It makes the Proms something to be proud of that it can bring works of levity as well as great profundity to the masses.
I'll close with perhaps the most important review of all:
The Bar *****
Gin and tonics kept me going - I spent nearly as much on gin as I did the tickets..!
I was in a quandary in the second interval of Siegfried. To gin or not to gin. A fit of madness that passed quickly pic.twitter.com/wN6FSzY1lH— adamnfish (@adamnfish) July 26, 2013