‘Rings’ all around

In the opera department of Getting Back to Normal, all manner of “Ring” cycles – emphasis on “all manner” – are in the works.

Putting on “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” Richard Wagner’s cycle of four music dramas, with its massive orchestration and populous cast, would be an epic coming-out party after all the cancellations, truncations, chamber reductions and limited-attendance performances of the pandemic years.

Trouble is, staging the cycle is infamously expensive and labor-intensive, as well as being very challenging to cast and, with the four works collectively clocking in at 17 hours or so (not counting intermissions), a high-stakes gamble if your audience isn’t German-speaking and you don’t promise to be an irresistible draw for hard-core Wagnerites who wander the Earth in search of the ultimate “Ring.”

(I define a “Ring” junkie as someone who eagerly anticipates sitting through Act 1 of “Siegfried.”)

New York’s Metropolitan Opera, whose last staging of the cycle, directed by Robert Lepage, is remembered for its massive, noisily malfunctioning lazy-susan set and for being subjected to memorably caustic reviews by the New York critics. The Met now is planning a new production directed by Richard Jones, whose previous two “Ring” efforts were (1st time) abandoned halfway into the cycle when the money ran out and (2nd time) went the distance, only to be ferociously panned by British critics, The New York Times’ Matthew Anderson reports:

However Jones’ third go turns out – it’s scheduled to begin in 2025 and to be staged in full in the 2026-27 season – it will follow two cycles that are unlike any “Ring” presented in living memory.

As previewed here last year (https://letterv.blog/2020/01/05/), conductor Kent Nagano and Concerto Köln, the German period-instruments orchestra, are rolling out a “Ring” with the instrumentation and purportedly in the style that would have been heard in the mid- to late-19th century. That cycle begins with “Das Rheingold,” first (and shortest) of the four dramas, to be presented on Nov. 18 at the Kölner Philharmonie and Nov. 20 at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam (unless the latest European wave of Covid-19 leads to lockdowns).

Already underway in London is a cycle by the ensemble Gafa (Samoan for “family”), staging “concert with movement” presentations that draw “parallels between Wagner’s great Nordic creation myth, with the gods’ love of power destroying them and Brünnhilde’s self-inflicted immolation ushering in suffering humanity, and the Pacific experience of western settlers usurping indigenous deities and imposing their own faith and values. Throw in a backcloth of the 1918 flu epidemic (prefiguring our present pandemic), brought to the islands by New Zealanders aboard the SS Talune, that killed 22% of Samoans, as well as allusions to climate change that threatens to overwhelm the islands . . . a potent cocktail,” The Guardian’s Stephen Moss writes:

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/oct/28/samoan-ring-cycle-wagner-gafa-ringafa

UPDATE (Nov. 19): Shirley Apthorp reviews the first Concerto Köln “Rheingold” performance for Norman Lebrecht’s Slipped Disc blog:

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