Magazine article The Spectator

Revelatory Results

Magazine article The Spectator

Revelatory Results

Article excerpt

The Ring

Edinburgh Festival

Mixing business suits with swords, rocks and 'the cosmos' with executive suites and cocktail cabinets in a staging of The Ring - something which was inconceivable before the Chereau production in Bayreuth in 1976, but is now almost de rigueur - can be rewarding, though rarely a pleasure to look at.

I have been slow to admit it, but Tim Albery's highly imaginative Scottish Opera production, with the lighting of Wolfgang Gobbel and Hildegard Bechtler's sets, has finally converted me, at least for the time being. When it's worked for easy laughs, as it is in several places in this Ring, it is wrong and damaging; and when a highly poetic scene is robbed of its poetry and becomes a bit of suburban sleaze, as in the case in the opening scene of Act III of Gotterdammerung, I feel angry and the anger persists. So to see the three Rhinemaidens as chain-smoking tarts at a tacky bar does serious damage to what by that stage should be a lyric prelude to the stunning build-up to the final catastrophe. It might be that Albery's point is that that is what the Rhinemaidens have become, since we saw them in their watery paradise at the start of the cycle, but that is not there, or implicit, in Wagner's score or text, and takes us too far away from the main drama, which is quite enough to handle in itself.

On the other hand, the representation of the hall of the Gibichungs as a tense office, with Gutrune an edgy, insecure partner, Gunther suffering even more acutely than his sister from stress, and the relaxed, probably druggy Hagen telling them both to cool it as he sorts things out, gives the whole oppressive scene in which they make their first appearance an intensity which I have rarely seen in more traditional productions, and reinforces the collision of the heroic, in the person of Siegfried, with the mundane. The only trouble is that Siegfried is, in this production, no longer heroic, having taken to suit-wearing himself at the behest of his tidy, home-loving wife Brunnhilde.

Once more Albery is mixing genuine, powerful illumination with his own idiosyncratic take on the cycle, with confusing results, especially for people in an early stage of acquaintance with it. And he is opening, sometimes exploring, a gap between the sublime music which issues consistently from Richard Armstrong's orchestra, and often from the fine cast which he has assembled, and the depressing contemporary goings-on that we watch. …

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