Ask any opera buff whether there is a fully-staged production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle in London this year, and they will confidently tell you that there isn’t one. They will be wrong. You only need to travel to North Ealing to experience the whole great cycle, on four consecutive evenings – August 18th to 21st – with world-class singers and a peerless orchestra, in a lavish and realistic production. St Barnabas Church PCC is indeed presenting the complete cycle from August 18th to 21st ! So if you need your annual ‘fix’ of a fully-staged Ring, there is no need to travel to Bayreuth or Seattle – come to Ealing instead.
Of course, we will be watching a fabulous recording of the cycle, emanating from the Met, New York, from about 1990, in high quality sound and vision. Full practical details are on www.barnabites.org/wagner-ring-cycle/ . There is no need to book tickets, each opera will cost £10, and delicious food will be provided in the intervals. In fact, the church has been showing operas now for 5 years, with about 55 performances covering most of the core opera repertoire. The operas have given huge pleasure to many local people, particularly the elderly who would be unlikely to travel to Covent Garden, the Coliseum or Glyndebourne, and have raised funds for the church. The format really does work supremely well in practice.
I am a huge fan of ‘canned opera’. The advantages over the ‘live’ experience are self-evident and too numerous to list, but include better singing, better vision, (usually) better sound, more ease in reading surtitles and no risk of singers cancelling because of a sore throat ! These are discussed in detail in a previous blog post http://www.hughmather.uk/wordpress/the-advantages-of-home-opera/ . I accept that there can be an extra ‘frisson’ of excitement with a live performance, but this usually turns into a massive frisson of irritation with modern productions. Watching ‘canned opera’ at home on one’s own can be a solitary and lonely experience, whereas being part of an audience experiencing an opera together, as at St Barnabas, is enormously enjoyable.
All opera houses regard staging the Ring as their ultimate challenge –so St Barnabas PCC thought that it would take up this challenge as well ! It is a gamble, since many opera-lovers find Wagner very difficult, as do a surprising number of musicians, so we may struggle to find an audience. I am always amazed that so few young instrumentalists, for example, seem to know any opera in general, and Wagner in particular. And various friends who are superb musicians, particular (it seems) those with a choral background, seem allergic to what they regard as ‘overblown’, ‘emotionally incontinent’ music ! Perhaps it depends on one’s psychological make-up. I think the excessive vibrato of many Wagner singers is a potent factor in their distaste – this is indeed a problem and needs its own blog post. And it takes a certain amount of work to absorb the leitmotifs and the convoluted story of the cycle. I was given the Solti set of LPs as a Christmas present by my wife around 1980, and spent whole weekends listening the music while following the turgid libretto, line by line. Now it’s much easier to absorb the operas, watching them on DVDs instead. Robin Duval is giving an illustrated lecture on the Ring Cycle on the preceding Sunday evening at 7 pm to help people who are new to the Ring. He is considerable expert on Wagner, and this should be an excellent introduction. More details again are on www.barnabites.org/wagner-ring-cycle/ .
The rewards are indeed great. One can’t be neutral about Wagner – either it leaves you cold, or it completely knocks you over ! Your first Wagner ‘trip’ – particularly Tristan, Walküre or Götterdämmerung – can be a ‘rite-of-passage’ experience – a veritable life-event. The cumulative emotional impact can be overwhelming. It really does, like Heineken, reach parts which other (composers) don’t reach, although I don’t think I should be too specific as to what they might be. One is left in awe of the genius of Wagner himself – regardless of his considerable personal failings.
So come along and enjoy Wagner’s Ring Cycle in August, whether you know the cycle intimately or not. I am hoping that at least some people might have their ‘rite-of-passage’ experience in St Barnabas Hall in mid-August ! If you are already a Wagner fan, do come along – and please tell your friends. It will be a mind-blowing experience, and certainly the cheapest Ring Cycle you will ever experience. Come and be part of this special occasion.