Mariinsky Ring: a summary shorter and sharper than the original

This time last week Act 3 of Siegfried was still resolutely underway, and my generally upbeat feelings were being battered by Brunnhilde’s considerable vibrato.  A little distance has been achieved, so a summary follows…

Production dire.  Gergiev vanity project about which someone should have a stern word.  Speaking of stern words, someone should talk to him about rehearsal, of which there appeared to have been a minimum for some of the most complex music and drama in the established repertory.  Further stern words should be had, if they haven’t already, with the cynical Hochhausers who didn’t permit Gergiev to bring his Shostakovich programme to Covent Garden but allowed him to take this undoubtedly ambitious, but indupitably flawed, project into an opera house whose Friends supported a complete Ring about a year previously and were expected to rush and gush about this later opportunity.  Mention of the Friends also brings up the stern words which I do hope that someone has had with Tony Hall who allowed one of the world’s great opera houses to be given over to a project which did not have the attention lavished upon it that greatness needs in order to succeed.  The Mariinsky may be great, but they are also flawed:  and the time put into this project transparently did not allow them to deal with, and resolve, what flaws it would have been within their gift to resolve.  The fact that the Hochhausers were granted access to a ready market of willing buyers – in the form of the Friends of Covent Garden – is what makes the ROH complicit in this endeavour: it was advertised to the members, and promoted as an integral part of the House’s schedule so was emphatically more than simply renting out the performance space to a visiting company.  Souls must be searched; I feel used…

The prices were on a par (at top whack) with the Covent Garden Ring, were less than it in the Upper Slips where I sat, and were drastically more in those sections of the House which are the ‘next up’ in line after standing.  The quality was a fraction, overall, of the Covent Garden performances and this was in no way reflected in price.  I can’t complain, having paid £40 – even with the complaints, this was a bargain – but I would be incandescent if I had paid £240 for a Lower Slips seat, and many many people have the absolute right to complain.  The English National Opera – frequently considered our second house, but still on occasion turning out performances that rival or surpass Covent Garden – delivered a better, and better value, Ring than this presentation.

There were upsides:  Siegfried in its entirety (Brunnhilde notwithstanding) and Siegfried himself.  Hagen, Gunther, Alberich and Gutrune.  One Brunnhilde (Walkure) and a Wanderer;  a momentary flash of good lighting and (finally!) some interesting spaces in Gotterdammerung.  But on balance this entire endeavour gets less than 5 out of 10 – and 15 hours of performance, with the rehearsals that did go into it, and the effort of schlepping the sets, etc. (for what they were worth) and orchestra (worth quite a lot) the distance they travelled is a lot of effort for less than 5 out of 10. 

My suggestion?  Concert performance.  ENO proved that it can be more powerful than a poor staging (even though theirs was streets ahead of this one).  Time could have been spent on rehearsing singers, setup would have been cheaper, and Gergiev would have been centre-stage as conductor, rather than in the back of people’s minds as the over-weening conductor-cum-impresario-cum-director who inspired a project which didn’t inspire us.

Thank you Mariinsky for providing something I may well never see again – a Ring in four successive days – and thank you for giving me a shove towards appreciating Siegfried more fully – and thank you for the effort generally on the night(s) which really did come across.  But you should reflect:  more rehearsal, don’t be led by the Hochhausers on price, play to your strengths and leave the direction to the directors.  What a wonderful experience, for all its ups and even – or maybe perhaps especially – for its the downs.  And could it be that I have a greater insight into the Ring for all the flaws in this performance…?  Thoughts?


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