Magazine article The Spectator

The Master's Voice

Magazine article The Spectator

The Master's Voice

Article excerpt


Salzburg Easter Festival

Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety. Rather more than safety, if truth be known. The Salzburg Easter Festival, which concluded on Monday with a performance of Gotterdammerung, topping off a Ring cycle shared with the summer festival in Aix, was an event of considerable beauty. Given the extraordinary prelude to this year's pageant, with a toxic cloud of scandal hanging over the city amid charges of embezzlement being drawn up against the outgoing director and technical director, it was more than anybody could have hoped for.

As well as conducting the last quarter of Wagner's mighty tetralogy, Simon Rattle led the Berlin Philharmonic through a St Matthew Passion 'realised' by Peter Sellars, and a brilliant gallop through the Symphonie Fantastique of Berlioz that saw most of the horses over the course in one piece. Mariss Jansons, supported by superb singers, also conducted a magnificent Verdi Requiem. So it was not all about Wagner, even if he had the last word, at four hours and 24 minutes the longest last word in musical history.

It would be grand to report that the evening was an unalloyed success. Rarely, however, do Ring cycles gather critical garlands at the time of their making. Even the ChereauBoulez collaboration, which is now regarded as ground-breaking, failed to convince all eyes when it was unveiled at Bayreuth in 1976. It is doubtful that this latest cycle, directed by Stephane Braunschweig, will be recalled a year from now, never mind after three decades of reflection.

When you consider how much time and effort goes into the construction of a Ring cycle, it beggars belief that its staging should have been entrusted to a person who, on the evidence submitted, has nothing to say of a work about which virtually everybody has said something in the past century and a half.

There was nothing in this Gotterdammerung, as there was nothing in the three previous operas, to shock (in the best sense), surprise or delight, though the final image, of the Rhinegold gleaming from the depths of the river, was pleasing. Nor was it an out-andout bore. It was simply another Ring, which made one wonder: why bother?

It got off to a poor start, with the Norns spinning a particularly feeble Rope of Destiny, the only props being three chairs which appeared to have been borrowed from a meeting of the local Rotary Club.

Then we were off to the rocky crag where Brunnhilde dwells, except this fabled mountain top took the form of ugly grey panels beloved by a certain kind of modern architect. …

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