As you can imagine, there’s been a right old ding-dong here in the offices of OperaWatch at Northern Soul Towers.
The past few months have seen a raging battle between the warring factions over whether to remain in or exit from the EOU. For those of you who don’t know, the EOU, or European Opera Union, was formed after the war to allow participating states the performing rights to hundreds of operas without tariff or trade barrier. It also allowed for the free movement of opera performers, conductors, composers and musicians across borders to foster harmony and understanding between states and prevent war. The allied opera victory in 1945 ensured that we were open to operas from across that divided continent.
Thanks to the rise of a group of insular Gilbert and Sullivan fans – known as ‘Mikadoists’ – inside the Tory government, it was decided to hold a European Opera Referendum. Needless to say, you all know the result by now: Opexit won by a narrow margin. We at OperaWatch campaigned hard and long for Opinera but to no avail. The sight of Digby Dunkirk-Spirite of UKIOP (United Kingdom Independent Opera Party) at 4.00am declaring that June 24, 2016 would forever be known as Opera Independence Day sent a chill down the spine of many an opera fan. The light opera Mikadoists had won the day. The gloom here has only been lifted by the thought that our departure from the EOU will take up to two years to negotiate before only Gilbert and Sullivan operas can be performed free of copyright tariffs and only by British performers. Scottish National Opera is hoping to negotiate its own deal after voting to remain in the EOU. As Wales voted to opexit, Bryn Terfel and Charlotte Church are desperately searching for Irish ancestry.
It has to be said that Opera North valiantly contributed to Opinera with a heroically staged production of the entire Ring cycle in the days before the vote. My endless campaigning throughout the pubs and trendier cafes of Manchester prevented me from seeing all four but I did catch Die Walkure. I had seen Das Rheingold, Siegfried and Gotterdammerung, all by Opera North, before so this would complete my Der Ring des Nibelungen experience.
And what a wonderful experience it was. Opera North has staged the Wagner marathon over the past four years, a single Ring in each year. To celebrate and mark the departure of Richard Farnes from the musical reigns of the organisation, this year they are staging the entire cycle all over the North as well as a stint in London.
Die Walkure is the second of the Ring cycle and concerns the back story to the birth of Siegfried, the hero of heroes who will ultimately return the Rhinegold and end the rule of the gods in Valhalla. In essence, Siegfried is the issue of the incestuous relationship between Siegmund (Michael Weinius) and Sieglinde (Lee Bisset), earthly twins of the Walsungs. More or less separated at birth, Siegmund and Sieglinde are victims of genetic sexual attraction (GSA) who don’t know they are related before they fall in love.
Despite finding out that they are siblings, this does not stop them from doing the deed, leaving Sieglinde pregnant and causing all kinds of problems in Valhalla. This production, like the others, is semi-staged with the orchestra on the stage allowing the singers to ‘surf’ on their wave of sound rather than fight against it if the orchestra were in the pit. Its testimony is an electric Ride of the Valkeries led by Brunnhilde (Kelly Cae Hogan) in a bravura performance. It is a four-hour ride of emotion, love, battles, death and sacrifice in which every player plays their part with a real commitment to opera in these uncertain times. I can still see Digby Dunkirk-Spirite foaming at the mouth over the immoral, un-British sexual couplings in European opera and promising to give all the millions spent on it to the ailing but homegrown Gilbert and Sullivan Society. A promise he soon reneged on in true UKIOP fashion.
Some days after the ill-fated vote I went to see Werther by Jules Massenet in a production streamed from the Royal Opera House to Manchester’s HOME whose screens are supported by Europa Cinemas (how long will that last?). The French Massenet declared that Werther was not an opera but a music-drama after seeing the Ring at Bayreuth. Another great example of the benefits of free opera movement all across Europe from its very birth. It was a moving performance of doomed love between the married Charlotte (Joyce Didonato) and the poet, Werther (Vittorio Grigolo). It ends tragically and beautifully with a single shot. Digby Dunkirk-Spirite darkly and ominously declared that Opexit had won “without a single shot being fired”. We at OperaWatch will always strongly disagree with that obnoxious little Nibelung.
By Robert Hamilton, Opera Correspondent