Classical: Putting the Case for the Defence Though It Opened to a Critical Onslaught in 1997, Pierre Audi's Ring Cy Cle in Amsterdam Is Now Complete
Mourby, Adrian, The Independent (London, England)
When Pierre Audi became the artistic director of the Nederlandse Opera in 1988, much was still being made of his modishness. The rich young man who founded London's Almeida Theatre wore a stylish black shirt, buttoned up to the collar but without a tie, much as did those other fashionable cultural figures of Eighties Britain, Alan Yentob, Michael Ignatieff and Charles Saatchi.
Eleven years on, Audi still wears his tieless shirts buttoned to the neck, but he is a more substantial figure than when he left London. Not only has the Lebanese wunderkind become a prominent figure in the world of international opera, he is also, dare one say it, more substantial round the waist too.
Audi sits in his minimalist office on Amsterdam's Waterlooplein smoking his Oliphant cigars and talking about the first complete Ring cycle to be played on Dutch soil. Having had a very rough ride in the Dutch press, Pierre Audi is at pains to point out that he never expected to be directing Wagner. In fact, his sudden - and hugely successful - involvement as producer of Monteverdi's opera Il returno d'Ulisse in patria back in 1990 was intended as a one-off. "It was a tremendous shock coming to the Muziektheater here in Amsterdam," he explains. "The performing space is tricky. The stage has enormous width, the pit is an isolated island in the auditorium and the acoustics are not the best in the world." Holland's opera supremo admits that he had become fascinated by the shape of performing space while running the Almeida, and so he decided to build the stage out and produce Ulisse himself as an experiment. The result, as Audi admits gently but without any hint of English modesty, was "amazingly intimate and acoustically exciting". Monteverdi hooked Audi on producing opera however, and ever since he has staged his own shows in tandem with his duties as the artistic director at De Nederlandse Opera. After almost a decade of notable successes - including Simon Rattle's first experience of conducting Wagner and Peter Greenaway's debut as an opera producer - Audi unveiled the first part of his Ring cycle in September 1997. For the man who had achieved such critical superlatives in his newfound career it must have come as a bit of a shock to be so reviled in the British press. It appeared that Audi could get nothing right. He was criticised for using real fire everywhere except where Wagner had specified it, for profligacy (it is a very expensive production); for making meaningless gestures such as the close-up of a human eye on a television screen in Mime's cave; for putting the orchestra actually on stage when Wagner had tried to hide it; and, damningly, for employing "a bunch of Bayreuth has-beens from the 1970s and 1980s". The worst criticism, however, was reserved for John Brocheler's impassive interpretation of the great god, Wotan, of whom the kindest thing that could be said was that his performance in Das Rheingold was introverted. The Audi Ring did not sink without trace as some reviewers might have wished, however. Over the next year, each of the four operas played eight times and were revised by Audi for the unveiling of the complete tetralogy last month. Did Audi learned from his critical mauling? "I think all opera is a compromise inevitably and all productions are searching. Rheingold was a very complicated, very awkward birth. The production team was new to Wagner and many of the singers were new to their roles. The set is so big and complex that it was difficult to rehearse without it, and that meant that a lot of what we had discovered in the rehearsal room was lost when we came on stage. Unfortunately, most reviewers only saw Rheingold." If he had to start again now, would he abandon some of the ideas that so upset British critics? "No, if I had the chance I'd go further," he says defiantly. For this first staging of the complete Ring, Audi has not replaced John …
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Publication information: Article title: Classical: Putting the Case for the Defence Though It Opened to a Critical Onslaught in 1997, Pierre Audi's Ring Cy Cle in Amsterdam Is Now Complete. Contributors: Mourby, Adrian - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: July 9, 1999. Page number: 17. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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