A Barebones Ring, perhaps Wagner at its best – Ring Cycle/Farnes Review

I was not, much to my own dismay and regret, able to go and see Opera North’s Ring last year. Little did I know, though I was hoping a fair bit, that they would record the entire thing. This review is, then, of the recorded Ring which I saw on BBC iPlayer.

Opera North’s Ring had been many years in the making, one opera every year until finally all were brought together in 2016. I went to a performance of Gotterdammerung when it was being performed a few years ago, and what an experience it was.

Given I wasn’t able to attend the cycle, which would’ve been my first, and from the memory of seeing Gotterdammerung in 2014, expectations and excitement was high. I was not disappointed.

The orchestra of Opera North gave an incredibly well polished performance, meeting and arguably surpassing the standards of excellence they have set themselves in recent years. Hats off to Richard Farnes who gave an insightful and riveting reading of the score. Beautifully intimate and chamber in Die Walkure Act 1, terrify when announcing Wotan’s arrival in Walkure Act 3, but also unleashing the full roar of the orchestra when needed throughout the cycle, particularly in Gotterdammerung, both in Act 2 and in the Immolation Scene. Perhaps we now have a new and brilliant British Wagner conductor joining the likes of Sir Antonio Pappano, Sir Mark Elder, and Sir Simon Rattle?

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There is certainly something quite awesome seeing a massive orchestra like this on stage

Whilst I can only speak for myself, I cried in every opera.

Signing Wagner presents gargantuan challenges, and for the most part, the ensemble carried themselves brilliantly. I will single out Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (Loge) and Susan Bickley (Fricka and Waltraute) and Mats Almgren (Fafner and Hagen) as giving star performances, particularly Almgren whose voice I just loved.

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Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke as Loge
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Mats Almgren as Hagen 

But the standout performances came from the two Brunnhildes, Kelly Cae Hogan and Katherine Broderick. In a role that few sopranos can attempt, let alone shine in, Hogan and Broderick were simply superb. Broderick I had never heard of before, but is a name I certainly won’t forget any time soon.

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Katherine Broderick as Brunnhilde in Siegfried
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Kelly Cae Hogan as Brunnhilde in Gotterdammerung

Credit is also due to Peter Mumford who was the main artistic brain behind putting this stripped back, yet extremely effective production together. The projections helped the story along and little snippets of information would no doubt have been invaluable to novices in explaining the complicated story of the Ring, without becoming distracting. Mumford’s design really put the music centre stage, and with the playing of the orchestra of Opera North, this is only to be welcomed with open arms.

For a mid sized opera company to put on Wagner is an incredible achievement, to perform six Ring Cycles to the standard they did is perhaps unheard of, probably because its an insane undertaking. Suffice to say I was completely balled over, truly stunning stunning stuff. This is a Ring I won’t be forgetting any time soon. It’s been a few days since I finished watching/listening, and I’m still grinning.

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All photos © Clive Barda/Opera North.

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