Royal Opera House. LONDON. Autumn 2005

Review by Polly Hope

Siegfried, number three of Wagner's great Ring cycle. Anyone tackling a new production of the Ring has to be both mad and a hero. An impossible job with Pooh traps at every bar and hordes of critics gnashing their teeth before the lights in the house have gone down. This SIEGFREID is a fine effort. Not the greatest ever but a fine try and definitely worth catching if you are in London and can get a ticket.

Musically this is a great evening, but then I am such an Antonio Papano fan that I find he can seldom do wrong. He has the magic. He makes magic, and without magic the Ring falls splat on the concrete. The wonderful Covent Garden orchestra blossoms under his baton. Always. Musically from curtain up the mystery and mist is there.

Gerhard Siege's Mime is brilliant, he really is cross and frustrated as he wrestles with trying to fix the wretched sword. John Treleaven fulfils a great deal of our imagined Siegfried for he is very large and good looking and his voice is enormous as well. It seems believable when he mends Nothung; he actually looks strong enough to pull off this impossible feat. John Tomlinson sings the Wanderer, Wotan, as should be, deep and sonorous, while keeping his balance on a whirling rectangle high above the stage despite a recent knee operation. The singers in this vast work seem as if born into their parts and occupy these weird mythological people as an extension of their own real lives. I have nothing but praise for the Alberich of Peter Sidhom, the Fafner of Phillip Ens, the Erda of Jane Henschel and the magnificent Brünnhilde of Lisa Gasteen. The odd one out is the Woodbird, Sarah Fox screeched like a Christmas turkey reaching its end. Still seven out of eight is pretty good.

Now the problems with this production. Frankly it doesn't work. But how many Rings have any off us seen that do work? Directors and designers always thin k that they have found a solution. Generally this is 'make it modern'. Surely the Ring must be timeless, neither now nor then. The horror of this mysterious cycle is that there is no beginning and no end to the struggle; it just goes on forever and ever and round and round. Maybe the story takes place inside a week, or maybe over a thousand years, which ever it is, time is unaccountable. No one is in a rush to get anywhere; they all wait eternally, albeit getting hysterically wound up from time to time.

The Ring is a hard nut to crack for both director and designer. More especially today when we have all this space age stuff constantly shown us in the movies. In this production, once again, it doesn't work. Oh yes, Stefanos Lazarides, usually a most accomplished designer, fails to scare us, perhaps dragons are an impossibility to be frightened of today. But surely Brünnhilda's rock surrounded by fire could be better than a canvas square with coloured lights projected on it? The director Keith Warner tries to keep the pace moving inch by inch towards the great love aria. The audience didn't fall asleep, but are we convinced? Do we mind what happens to this dysfunctional household? Shut your eyes and wallow in the beauteous sound and forget the silly production.

I wonder what it would be like to see a Ring produced as Wagner saw it? Possibly only of historical interest, but it could be worth a go. I am all for trying to find a new approach to this monumental work, and I am doubtful if film is the answer. However it could be worth a try. At least the magic, which is far more intense and interesting than Harry Potter, could at last be made frightening and real. Go for it Dreamworks.

So put your sleep mask on, curl up in your seat and listen. Just don't look.