Magazine article The Spectator

Opera Jumping the Gun

Magazine article The Spectator

Opera Jumping the Gun

Article excerpt

2012 has been an undistinguished year in opera, at any rate in the UK. A combination of cutbacks and the promise of stops being pulled out next year for the bicentenaries of Verdi's and Wagner's births and the centenary of Britten's has led to the big companies counting on our anticipation. Except that, in the case of Wagner, though oddly not of Verdi, the gun has been jumped. We have already had the Royal Opera's Ring, four cycles of it in just over a month, so that there will be no staged Ring in London next year, only a concert version. It will be left to Longborough, for those who have the money, the time and the transport, to see it on stage, and judging from the individual parts that have been mounted in the past four years, the results should be tremendous.

There have been quite a few Wagner performances this year, some of them exceptionally fine. My most rewarding experiences were in Cardiff, Birmingham and Leeds, with Opera North's Die Walkure in an all-but-staged performance easily taking the prize. The main reason for that, as with any overwhelming evening of Wagner, was the conducting: this year Richard Farnes has shown himself to be a master of such diametrically opposed idioms as Wagner and Janacek. That Walkure, which was relayed by the BBC, was the greatest performance of a Wagner opera I have heard since Reginald Goodall's a quarter of a century ago. In the coming season, Opera North will be performing Siegfried, and one hopes that it will manage yet another miracle by discovering an adequate singer of the title role.

There has never been a surplus of great singers of the heroic 19th-century operas, but at present there is undeniably a crisis. The casting of the Royal Opera's Les Troyens as much as of its Ring showed how severe the crisis is. The only unequivocally great heroic singing was from Bryn Terfel as Wotan, while the sopranos and tenors ranked somewhere between the tolerable and the impossible. It's got to the stage where one is grateful if one goes to a performance of one of the great Romantic operas and the singers make it through without actually causing pain. That, and the unrelenting absurdity of almost all Wagner productions, means that concert or semi-staged performances are the only ones that one can safely look forward to. There are no signs yet of the apotheosis of the director having past its peak, if that's what apotheoses do, so we can expect a year of irrelevant pretension there too. …

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