Saturday, 27 July 2013


A large black BMW passed me in Queen's Gate this afternoon, as I biked towards the Albert Hall. "NOT 2B" was its number. So, to while away the time during parts of my least favourite Ring segment, I counted the "Not to be" moments in Siegfried. Mime's plot to get hold of the Ring; Fafner's intent to live forever sitting on his horde; the Wanderer's bid for useful information from Erda, and then his attempt to bar the young hero's way to Brünnhilde; and finally her realisation on awaking that immortality was no longer to be.

"Least favourite" it may be for many - I spied empty seats around for the first time this week - but there are still many magic moments. The break the composer took at the end of Act 2 explains the thrilling gear change you always experience at the outset of the Act 3 Prelude. Last night, the hair at the back of my neck duly stood on end then: one would expect nothing less with this wonderful orchestra on the stage.

Barenboim's relationship with all its members is not always easy to fathom: there was another of those curious frissons last night, again at the end of Act II. Was it bashfulness or defiance, the first horn's failure to come on to acknowledge applause? He deserved the belated recognition Barenboim gave him - not just for his playing of the famous dragon-awakening call, but for carrying on undaunted by Lance Ryan (the boy hero) prancing around at his side, a splendidly surreal (two days running, that word) bit of theatre.

Generally Ryan looked the gawky part, and came into it, vocally, in the final scene, which ended with the audience fully bathed in golden love-fest light. Did he deserve his Brünnhilde? Well, to my ear Nina Stemme wasn't on such fine form as on Tuesday: it will be interesting to hear her on Sunday. the big one.

The other singers were excellent, dramatically and vocally, especially Kränzle as Alberich: his duet with Stensvold's Wanderer at the start of Act 2 was a highlight. And it makes such a difference, being in a hall light enough so you can follow the libretto when you want to - far preferable to straining at surtitles. How great too, not to have production values to complain about! ("There are two Rings taking place here: one by Castorf and one by Wagner." Thus Martin Kettle sums up this year's new Bayreuth production.)

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