I’m sitting here with a can of Tiger trying to get away from emails and skype conversations to do some serious writing. I am listening to Boulez’s Bayreuth Ring Cycle which for me is the most powerful and driven version of the modern era with the best Brunhilde of all time in Dame Gwynneth Jones. My other favorite (and I have eight versions at the current count) is in complete contrast; a wonderfully balanced and more evolutionary performance produced in the same period under the baton of the greatest Wagnerian of all time Reginald Goodall. One of these days I will find some way to get tickets to Bayreuth!
Either way, after a couple of days of listening I have reached Siegfried’s funeral march. For me this represents one of the most moving pieces of music ever written, impossible to hear without an intense emotional response and difficult to listen to out of context. The death of the hero who does not know fear triggering the death of the Gods and the opening of hope for a human kind released from their control. Far more powerful to my mind than Ode to Joy as it represents a more complex transition of values. In the Boulez version it also represents a release from the greed and decline of 19th Century capitalism.
I remember sitting through a full performance of the Ring in the 1986 performance by the WNO over four glorious nights in the New Theatre Cardiff. In the final scene of Götterdämmerung, as Brünnhilde immolates herself on Siegfried’s funeral pyre, Kathryn Harries (who made Gutrune more than a supporting role) turned to the audience in a gesture that could only be one of a “release to act”, to take responsibility for the world freed from superstition.
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