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Der Ring des Nibelungen: Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, Royal Opera House, London


Now that Keith Warner’s "Ring" has been re-launched in its entirety, we can judge it afresh. Like the first two "days" (reviewed last week) the second two contain much to enjoy, if also some disappointments, plus some technical hitches which should have been sorted out in dress rehearsal - notably the stuffed stag with its antlers caught on the overhanging 'sky', thus sabotaging Siegfried’s loveliest aria.

Warner’s direction is very hit-and-miss. He skilfully heads off longueurs in the expository sections, but at other times his touch can desert him totally. In Siegfried’s awakening of Brünnhilde, what should be a climactic blaze of ecstasy is scuppered by the way Stefan Vinke and Susan Bullock are placed miles apart and required to ignore each other; their subsequent performances in ‘Götterdämmerung’ are nothing short of heroic.

But this production throws up some wonderful moments. The "Annunciation of Death" duet between Simon O’Neill’s Siegmund and Eva-Maria Westbroek’s Sieglinde is one; while Sophie Bevan’s Woodbird, Mihoko Fujimura’s Waltraute, John Tomlinson’s Hagen, and Bryn Terfel’s psychologically-acute portrayal of Wotan’s conversion provide others. And nobody who saw it will forget the extraordinary farewell between this Wotan and his Brünnhilde, as the pent-up emotion of a lifetime of repression is sublimated in song.

If Wagner’s plotting does not always add up, Antonio Pappano and the Royal Opera House orchestra brilliantly demonstrate the scale of his still-underrated symphonic achievement (Tom Ades is the current fashionable nay-sayer). But we’re waiting for a 21st century production which does the ‘Ring’ justice, and the real weakness of this show lies in its designs.

Wagner’s own stage directions indicate landscapes lit by rosy dawns and golden sunsets, and periodically overcast by storm-clouds; each numinous event had to be heralded by its own particular light.

I’m not suggesting we go back to such literalism, but Warner’s designer (the late Stefanos Lazaridis) seems to have been fatally hobbled by the pseudo-intellectual baggage his designs were expected to bear. They clutter the stage like Steptoe’s yard, and their perverse denial of beauty is disabling.

This is only mitigated in Act 3 of Götterdämmerung, where the cacophony of images resolves into something grand, simple, and exquisitely lit. This why his "Ring" will never be loved, and why it will be supplanted as soon as decorum - and budgets - permit.

PS - Memo to management: Time to replace the ROH’s "front-of-house fanfare", which is ear-bashingly naff.