Sage Gateshead is to host an operatic marathon, staging all four parts of Wagner’s famous Ring cycle inside a week.
Opera North’s acclaimed production of the epic work was previously performed at the venue between 2011 and 2014, with one of the four Ring cycle operas performed each year.
Now all four parts will be performed together in the summer of 2016 with Das Rheingold (The Rhine Gold) on Tuesday, July 5, Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) on Wednesday, July 6, Siegfried on Friday, July 8 and the climactic Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) on Sunday, July 10.
It took German composer Richard Wagner 26 years, from 1848-74, to compose the operas that make up the Ring cycle. He also wrote the libretto (words).
Although the four operas can be performed separately, Wagner intended them to be performed in a series and they are linked by a powerful story of dwarfs and gods and a stolen golden ring that has echoes in Tolkien’s equally epic The Lord of the Rings.
The premiere performance of the full Ring cycle, which takes about 15 hours, was in 1876 at the Bayreuth Festival in Germany which continues to honour Wagner’s music to this day.
Leeds-based Opera North call the Ring cycle “among the greatest artistic and logistical challenges which any opera company can undertake”.
But the company’s four-year epic under music director Richard Farnes drew widespread praise and proved popular with audiences.
Next year he will conduct six cycles of The Ring – two in Leeds and then one each in Nottingham, Salford, London and, finally, Gateshead – before ending his 12-year tenure as the company’s music director.
Richard Mantle, general director of Opera North, said: “When Opera North set out on this journey, we had no idea that our concept for performing each element of the Ring – in a way that places the drama of the music at the very heart of the performances – would captivate audiences so completely.
“This positive response from audiences, many of whom have experienced the Ring for the first time with us, has encouraged us to mount performances of full Ring cycles in a national tour in 2016.
“There is no doubt in my mind that in Richard Farnes we have discovered one of the great Wagner conducting talents of our time. Under his inspiring leadership this Ring promises to be an unforgettable experience for artists and audiences alike.”
The Opera North production uses minimal costumes, dramatic lighting and three screens behind the 100-strong orchestra showing subtle visuals and text.
In Gateshead, where I was one of those experiencing the Ring cycle for the first time, each instalment of Wagner’s tale was approached as a special occasion, the last three operas starting in the afternoon and ending late in the evening after an extended interval.
The drama of the music and the story kept me and others riveted to our seats and the memory of Ride of the Valkyries – nine sopranos in a line – still makes my blood run cold.
Wagner’s legacy is tarnished in some people’s minds because Hitler was a fan of his music and the Nazis commandeered the Bayreuth Festival after their rise to power, evidently sending wounded soldiers there for Wagner-related lectures and performances – whether they liked it or not.
Richard Wagner had been dead for 50 years by that time but his English-born daughter-in-law, Winifred, who ran the festival from 1930 until 1945, idolised Hitler, corresponding with him and calling him “our blessed Adolf”.
Some of the Jewish singers who had excelled in Wagnerian roles at Bayreuth became victims of the Holocaust but Winifred (born Winifred Williams in the Sussex town of Hastings) evidently remained staunch in her admiration for the German dictator up until her death in 1980.
Wagner’s music has long since been reclaimed by those who admire it for its technical brilliance and drama.
Tickets for the performances at Sage Gateshead are on sale now. Box office: 0191 4434661 or www.sagegateshead.com