I have never seen Wagner’s ultra-celebrated Der Ring des Nibelungen whole, complete and in order. Not on the stage, anyway. Like anyone and everyone else who is or was interested in opera, I remember the famously filmed Patrice Chéreau version of umpteen years ago, which -- via British television -- allowed people like myself (with very limited German) finally to follow the story and even much of the poetry as well as enjoy the music. And over the years I have seen a handful of theatre versions of the various Ring-components: from a sceneryless Walküre at the Nice Opera House in the early 1970s to an unmemorable Siegfried at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in a year which I also forget. But that’s it.
It shouldn’t have happened that way. After all, I was brought up in a home where the stories and music from the Ring, were as familiar as nursery-rhymes, and one of the first long-playing recordings which I owned – aged about ten -- was of Astrid Varnay’s Bayreuth Brünnhilde. I must have worn it out, as I don’t have it any more.
Then, aged fifteen or so, when I discovered the big basso voice that would change my life, one of the first pieces of music into which, with the rashness of youth, I greedily flung myself was Wotan’s Farewell. By the time I became a professional singer – with a voice ending at E natural -- I had downsized my ambitions to Hunding. Which wasn’t really much more practical, given that I boasted a twenty-six inch waist, no shoulders to speak of, and weighed in around nine stone.
Well, I never got to sing Hunding. I transmuted over the years from operatic basso into musical-theatre guru, and for many years – partly dissuaded by silly, ‘trendy’ stagings -- I did not even visit the world’s opera houses.
But, fifty years on from those Astrid Varnay days, I have come full circle. Once again, I listen to, enjoy and write about operatic music and operatic singers, once again I have put my nose and ears into an opera house, and now – with my pension book in sight –finally I am going to see (and, of course, write about) a whole, entire four-nights Ring des Nibelungen cycle. In a few weeks, I leave Sefton, New Zealand, for Berlin …
I am trying to have no preconceptions, no fixed ideas. I am not swatting up the half-forgotten details and music of Wagner’s work. I want to come to this as a piece of fresh and ‘new’ music-theatre. Which, I imagine, will make me the only writer-cum-critic in the world, amongst the hundreds who know the piece note and word perfectly, in such a position…
Watch this space!