Der Ring des Nibelungen

Antonio Pappano
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
26 October 2018 (R), 18 October 2018 (W)
31 October 2018 (S), 2 November 2018 (G)
Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio

Das Rheingold

Die Walküre



Wagner’s Ever-Vibrant Genius Trumps An Unimaginative Production

We had the unexpected pleasure of attending the last Cycle of the Keith Warner production of “Der Ring des Nibelungen” at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (September 26 through November 2, 2018).

Warner’s production, like most modern productions, had several insightful touches and many silly ones. The performance begins and ends with the Rhine Maidens in a “natural state” – naked – nudity seeming to be de rigueur for new productions.

Leaving Nothing To The Imagination

Costumes were the mix of medieval rags and modern dress, with Alberich and Mime attired as mad scientists. Warner leaves little to the imagination – there is a large crashed plane prominently featured in “Siegfried,” perhaps to explain how Wotan landed on earth from Vallhalla. Siegfried uses the fuel from the plane to heat up the forge. And the mystery of the disappearance of Alberich is solved. In “Götterdämmerung,” he appears to Hagen sucking on a respirator on a hospital bed in a suspended boat – too much time in the mines apparently resulting in Black Lung disease.

There were some surprisingly contemporary touches – the Rhine maidens seemed to be very aware of the #metoo movement. Not only was Alberich’s amorous intentions rebuffed by the Rhinemaidens, they positively beat the stuffing out of him. And – like father, like son – when Hagan grabs the ring at the end of “Götterdämmerung,” the Rhine Maidens beat him up and get it back. A good part of the staging involved what we referred to as the Wall – either rotating and suspended below Wotan’s feet or separating the divine from the human on the fire mountain.

A Ring For Singers

This Ring belonged to the singers. Bass-baritone John Lundgren, despite some issues in the first Ring, had real presence as Wotan. He brought a physicality to the role that we have not seen in other productions.

Baritone Johannes Martin Kranzle, as Alberich, was suitably evil, but less threatening than others portraying the role. He becomes quite querulous – more Mime-like than Mime – after his entrapment and loss of the Ring.

Tenor Gerhard Siegel, as Mime, can safely claim this role as his own. Gunther Groissbock was a wonderful Fasolt, played as a worker with Fafner, sung by Brindley Sherratt, as his boss.

“Die Walküre” was one of the most moving performances we ever heard. Wotan’s narratives were particularly compelling.

Tenor Stuart Skelton, as Siegmund, was in excellent voice and carried the first act. Soprano Emily McGee, as Sieglinde, only came into her own in act three. Soprano Nina Stemme had a warmth and breadth that surpassed her wonderful performance last July in Munich. Her intonation is impeccable.

“Siegfried” was a full voiced energetic and rapid paced production. The first act was well integrated and beautifully staged Lundgren continued to be a pleasant surprise and tenor Stefan Vinke rose to the occasion in the title role. Soprano Heather Engebretson, as the Woodbird, actually appears onstage after descending from the ceiling. However, the mincing over the barbed wire with Siegfried on the way to the mountain was ridiculous.

Brunhilde’s awakening happens behind the Wall, and the door that allows her to enter as a woman slams behind her as she approaches Siegfried. This staging did not allow Stemme to shine dramatically as she did in Munich. We loved Antonio Pappano’s rhythmic sense and forward thrust but unfortunately, he and the orchestra ran away from Stemme at the end of Act three.

Some Mixed Parts

Stemme was her amazing self in “Götterdämmerung.” Her intensity was staggering. She communicated every phrase and was in excellent voice. Danish bass Stephen Milling as Hagen, however, was impressive. He was suitably malevolent and menacing. Of the main trio, it was Vinke, the tenor who didn’t seem up to task with the challenging role of Siegfried.

Karen Cargill as Waltrude was excellent but Pappano took this scene much too slowly. Emily McGee appears here as Gutrune, to some success. Unfortunately, most of the pacing was off and Götterdämmerung never caught fire (no pun intended).

Overall, Antonio Pappano did a creditable job leading the orchestra, although the orchestra had some obvious deficiencies. He tends to keep the opera moving, generally at a rather brisk pace with some surprising and disappointing exceptions. Nothing really packed a wallop and his transitions were indiscernible.

But some of his passages were quite lyrical and we can understand why he has a devoted following in London.

Nina Krauthamer & Charles Blum | November 2018


Wagner’s Ring – Fifteen hours of glorious music

Fifteen hours of glorious music with over four more hours of intervals in eight days may sound like a bit of an ordeal, but Wagner’s Ring Cycle has to be experienced to be appreciated.

It is quite unlike anything else, especially when performed with such vigour and expertise as is currently being displayed at the Royal Opera House.

The Ring Cycle, unlike Wagner’s other operas, many of which are epics in their own right, is a four-part mini-series, telling a tale loosely based on Old Norse mysths.

In fact, just as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is an invention based on old myths, Wagner’s is a grown-up version of even greater imagination, also centred on a magical ring that conveys power and disaster on its owner.

I once calculated that if you read Tolkien’s Hobbit and the three volumes of Lord of the Rings at a page a minute, it takes just one minute longer than watching Wagner’s Ring, and thanks to the energy of the music, the Wagner has even fewer dull moments.

The Royal Opera House is to be congratulated on assembling a superb cast for its first production of the Ring since 2012.

The opening opera, Das Rheingold, was beautifully sung, but the acting seemed to me to be rather muted, with nobody assertive enough to stamp their character on any role.

Even John Lundgren as Wotan, king of the gods, was a little understated.

However, I need not have worried: the great Swedish Wagnerian soprano Nina Stemme came into the story as Wotan’s daughter, the Valkyrie Brünnhilde, in part two, Die Walküre, and the rest of the cast seemed to be lifted by her performance.

Wagner singers are a breed apart: quite apart from the stamina demanded for such long operas, they need the power to sing at a volume matching that of the orchestra, and Wagner’s music is packed with powerful sounding brass instruments.

Stemme has it all: quite apart from the vitality and endurance demanded of her, she can turn up the volume with no deterioration in voice quality.

With her belting out the music, the rest of the cast were lifted to give their best performances all the way through to Götterdämmerung, the twlight of the Gods, in the final opera.

German tenor Stefan Vinke is superb as the hero Siegfried, and after his hesitant start to the cycle, John Lundgren was a brilliant Wotan, particularly in the scenes he shared with Stemme.

Also Stephen Milling and Markus Butter put in fine performances as the villains Hagen and Gunther.

To add to all the glorious singing, the conductor Antonio Pappano was perhaps the hardest working of all, conducting the Royal Opera House Orchestra with commendable vigour and a true understanding of the music, while the director Keith Warner and set designer Stefanos Lazaridis combined to create an impression as strong as the music but never going too far.

The performance of Die Walküre on October 28 will be relayed live to cinemas worldwide.

For anyone wanting to dip their toes into the Wagner ocean, this is a great opportunity to see and hear it at full blast.

It may be only a quarter of the full cycle, but it is the best part and featured the best-known music in the Ride of the Valkyries.


Daily Mail

Conductor Antonio Pappano shows what an outstanding Wagnerian he is… but what a pity about the casting in this uneven foray into The Ring

If I was recreating Gilbert’s ‘Little List’ of offenders from The Mikado, Keith Warner’s Ring would be on it. His approach rarely illuminates one of the greatest triumphs of Western art.

Die Walküre, musically the strongest Ring opera, is set in a large cluttered room, as if we had strayed into the Royal Opera’s props warehouse. Through this messy muddle, the first-night cast warily picked their way. At least no one got impaled on the scenery, as both Brünnhilde and Fricka did last time.

But Nina Stemme, the world’s finest Brünnhilde right now, sounded way out of sorts having to sing her opening war cries while descending a rickety ladder.

And much of the business this time was plain silly, like Wotan getting panicked into putting his coat on inside out, to general amusement, and especially the Ride of the Valkyries, always a daft moment, looking especially ludicrous here as eight amply proportioned ladies lumped around horses’ skulls like a keep-fit session at Weight Watchers.

On the positive side, conductor Antonio Pappano, despite some orchestral blemishes, showed yet again what an outstanding Wagnerian he is.

But the casting was undeniably erratic. Stuart Skelton was an unusually honey-toned Siegmund, but Emily Magee was totally miscast as Sieglinde.

Sarah Connolly successfully reprised her compelling Fricka, Wotan’s wife, but John Lundgren’s Wotan lacked charisma both dramatically and vocally. His predecessors, Sir John Tomlinson and Sir Bryn Terfel, are massive shoes to fill. Lundgren fell out of them at almost every turn.

Götterdämmerung was better, because all the clutter suddenly disappeared, and the sets bore some resemblance to what was actually going on.

Warner here even made a couple of changes: for instance, removing his bathetic ending, when lots of contemporary kids scampered around, in favour of the Rhinemaidens more traditionally celebrating the Ring’s return.

There was so much to enjoy in Stephen Milling’s powerful Hagen, so charismatic and sonorous of voice, that he could have been the hero, compared to Stefan Vinke’s oikish Siegfried.

As last time, Vinke sounded dry, nasal and uningratiating throughout his entire range. It doesn’t help that he looks more like a mugger out on licence than a great hero.

During this run he celebrates his 100th Siegfried – more a comment on the abysmal standards of heldentenors than his talents.

Elsewhere, Karen Cargill was an excellent Waltraute throughout her long and demanding scene with Brünnhilde.

All the Norns and the Rhinemaidens sang well, and even Emily Magee, back as sad little Gutrune, did herself justice. Markus Butter was also a well observed Gunther.With Pappano once again on the finest possible form, I kept thinking how much better this would have been as a run of concert performances, like those Opera North so memorably put on two years ago.

DAVID MELLOR | 6 October 2018

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 48.0 kHz, 1.9 GByte (MP3)
Broadcast (BBC 3)
A production by Keith Warner (2004/2006)