Bored of the ‘Ring’

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lennygoran
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Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by lennygoran » Tue May 14, 2019 8:07 pm

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Bored of the ‘Ring’


By Zachary Woolfe

May 14, 2019

“Today you’ve witnessed it,” the god Wotan tells his wife in Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen.” “Learn that a thing can suddenly happen that’s never happened before.”

His words rang true as I watched the four-opera “Ring” over four evenings, 18 hours in all, at the Metropolitan Opera last week, the finale of the company’s two-month Wagnerian immersion. I hadn’t thought it possible: Robert Lepage’s much-warred-over production of the “Ring” now makes for decent drama.

When it was new at the Met, nearly a decade ago, Mr. Lepage’s “Ring” was simply a mess. Millions of dollars — and a reinforcement of the theater’s stage — in the making, the 90,000-pound set kept malfunctioning. Plainly afraid of being injured, the singers seemed ill at ease, the acting an afterthought. The star soprano could barely make it through.

Years of attention seemed to have gone into expensive, wonky animated projections that splashed onto the seesawing set to suggest the cycle’s shifting locales, from the bowels of Nibelheim to Valhalla in the clouds. Falling well short of his goal of presenting Wagner’s stage directions literally, Mr. Lepage didn’t even convey the basic plot — let alone the spectacle’s larger issues, why it should matter.

With the global economy in crisis and austerity measures strangling societies — and opera companies — worldwide, the exorbitant, empty-headed staging felt out of step with the times, a creaky extravagance from an art form perennially dismissed as just that.

Fast forward six or seven years. Thanks to yet more investment in it, Mr. Lepage’s extravagant “machine” now creaks rather less. Last week’s cycle, the final of three this spring, passed without major glitches. And an emboldened, articulate cast sang superbly and made the human stakes of the “Ring” far clearer than before.


In 2012, it had taken until the entrance of Waltraud Meier as Waltraute, a couple of hours from the cycle’s end, to convey the story’s urgency. Now, that person-to-person drama was palpable from practically the beginning, as Michael Volle’s already world-weary, aging patriarch of a Wotan confronted Jamie Barton’s fervent Fricka in “Das Rheingold,” and they actually seemed to be listening to one another.

Where the scenes for the Gibichung siblings in “Götterdämmerung” had been bland, there was now a curdled charge, and, in that opera, a crushing realism in Brünnhilde’s acquiescence in what is, essentially, her own rape. There, as elsewhere in the cycle, Christine Goerke was a perceptive and responsive presence, her face an open book of emotion, building to a powerful yet modest, human-scale Immolation Scene.

If only the orchestra had been nearly so characterful. While Philippe Jordan’s conducting had moment-by-moment fleetness, and agile responsiveness to the singers, there was no sense of long-arching accumulations of intensity, little variety of mood or color. The sound was thin, murky and diffuse, like a cloudy broth; the brasses were inelegant even when not flubbing.

There are arresting moments in the physical production. Back in 2011 I had found the projected avalanches that forlornly cascade down a mountain during Wotan’s confrontation with Brünnhilde distracting in “Die Walküre”; now they felt poetic. When it was covered in 3-D images as it twisted into craggy formations, the set was still capable of taking my breath away.

But for all its scenic sweep, the “Ring” is actually not in constant transformation. Whole hours pass with characters merely talking to each other, a spectacle closer to Ingmar Bergman than Cecil B. DeMille. Single-mindedly focused on the DeMille aspects, the changes of scene that make up a tiny fraction of the run time, the Lepage “Ring” won’t stop answering the wrong question.

The production goes to the heart of a debate that still roils opera. No theater fan in 2019 thinks that “Hamlet” can only be mounted with Elizabethan costumes and the precise observance of Shakespeare’s stage directions. But there’s a loud contingent of operagoers who are scandalized if Violetta in “La Traviata” wears a red slip rather than crinolines, or if the “Ring” forgoes breastplates and spears.

But though he cared deeply for the trappings of the myths from which he formed his “Ring,” Wagner ultimately meant those horned helmets and realistically frolicking Rhinemaidens to be a vehicle for his philosophical preoccupations: tangled layers of social utopianism, anarchism, love-conquers-all humanism, renounce-the-world nihilism.


Those tangled layers — Wagner’s ambiguity about the meaning of the “Ring” — make it clear that every audience needs to find its own explanations for the rot that is at the heart of the cycle’s world. Is it social inequality? Capitalism itself? Misogyny? Environmental destruction? Racial oppression?

All of the above is there in the libretto, even when you do it with horns and spears. But, if only given the cycle’s length and complexity, it seems merely responsible for a director to offer some intervention; to guide the audience through the sprawl; to emphasize some themes more than others; to be explicit about contemporary connections; to interpret the characters afresh; to untangle Wagner’s layered meanings with a personal slant.

Mr. Lepage’s fantasy of neutrality — the denial that there might be more stimulating ways to spend many millions of dollars than trying, with varying degrees of success, to capture 19th-century stage directions word for word — strikes me as perverse. He might justify his relentless attention to the visuals, at the expense of a deep reading of this rich text, as a post-ideological reaction to politically charged “Ring” stagings of the past half century. But his work simply pales — in interest, intellectual heft and sheer beauty — next to so many of those efforts.

Thankfully the Met did eliminate a final indignity from the production’s original run: the weakly exploding heads of statues of the gods as the world ends. Now, the statues poke up in the far background before keeling over unobtrusively.

It remains telling that the Met’s “Ring” — the prime stated purpose of which is to evocatively handle scene changes — is so incoherent in this final sequence of apocalypse, the grandest series of transitions in the cycle, precisely described in Wagner’s libretto. Mr. Lepage soon just gives up: Much of the stirring parade of leitmotifs simply plays over a projected wall of rushing water, the return to the Rhine with which the “Ring” began, many hours before.

Asked if the production would return in the future, Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, said through a spokesman that “we’re not planning that far in advance.”

But on Saturday evening, the water projection continued a moment too long, flashing onto the final curtain. Even in its new, less creaky, more compelling incarnation, the Lepage “Ring” has still overstayed its welcome.


https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/14/arts ... epage.html

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by John F » Tue May 14, 2019 9:43 pm

This review is full of straw men, beginning at the beginning with five paragraphs devoted to reviewing a Ring performance of seven years ago. But sifting through the chaff, I gather that in these performances the characters are more strongly directed (and, of course, acted) more strongly than before, which was necessary and very welcome, and that the performance was weakly conducted, as I expected and certainly don't welcome.

Peter Gelb finesses the question of whether this production will be revived any time soon, by saying the Met doesn't plan that far ahead. Since the Met not only plans five years ahead but locks in contracts with the principal performers at least that far in advance - it has to nowadays - what he's saying, in effect, is "Don't count on it." One measure of an opera company's stature is whether and how often it performs the Ring cycle. It's been six years since the Met's last cycles; that's too long.

By the way, the review's title not only doesn't fit the review very well but is an unacknowledged rip-off of the Harvard Lampoon's best-selling Tolkien parody "Bored of the Rings." Since in newspapers the titles are usually not by the reporter/reviewer but by some other staff member, maybe Woolfe shouldn't be blamed. He has enough else to answer for.
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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by maestrob » Wed May 15, 2019 11:04 am

At least the better voices in this cast are acknowledged. I was not happy with Deborah Voigt's past her prime Brunnhilde last time around: Goerke sounds fresher and with better acting, according to the review. I do wish the MET would telecast this current cycle, but it may be too soon for another Ring extravaganza on TV. We'll see.

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by John F » Wed May 15, 2019 11:47 am

First, the Met needs to find a conductor who can do the work justice, a tall order now that the last great generation of Wagner conductors is gone and James Levine is in outer darkness (and probably also physically incapable).

I can think of three candidates, off the top of my head: Christian Thielemann, Daniel Barenboim, and Valery Gergiev. Thielemann is so identified with Bayreuth nowadays that he may have no interest in such a project; and both Barenboim and Gergiev are so busy with their own opera companies that they may simply not have the time (let alone the inclination) to rehearse and conduct three cycles of the Ring, which would take at least two months even though it's a revival. Other nominations would be welcome, but not the likes of Philippe Jordan or Fabio Luisi.
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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by jserraglio » Wed May 15, 2019 12:43 pm

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by diegobueno » Wed May 15, 2019 1:18 pm

I kept waiting for the reviewer to tell me what the wrong question is that Lepage is trying to answer, and what's the right question?

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by John F » Wed May 15, 2019 11:03 pm

jserraglio wrote:
Wed May 15, 2019 12:43 pm
Kirill Petrenko
Certainly a plausible candidate, with Ring cycles in Munich and Bayreuth in his resumé. But as music director of the Bavarian State Opera and the Berlin Philharmonic, I doubt he can clear two months or more to rehearse and conduct three Ring cycles in New York, if indeed he would want to.
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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by Len_Z » Thu May 16, 2019 5:11 am

Salonen will be conducting a new production of the Ring in Helsinki next season. I have never heard him perform anything by Wagner, but I think he's a fantastic musician and his take will be at the very least interesting.

Another candidate that I would be very keen on hearing is Runnicles.

And let's not forget that the NY Philha is now headed by a conductor who's just recorded a very decent Ring - Jaap van Zwenden.

But I am 99% certain that in reality the next Ring at Met will be conducted by Jannick. Which, considering my age and inability to stomach air travel, means that I most likely will never witness a live Ring in my life again.

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by John F » Thu May 16, 2019 7:03 am

Salonen conducted "Tristan und Isolde" with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and brought it to New York on tour. I thought it was very good. But the Ring is an entirely different challenge from "Tristan," not just because of its length, and I would think Salonen needs to conduct it more than once to get the measure of it.

The conductors already named in this thread have much experience conducting the Ring, both with their own opera companies and (except for Gergiev and Runnicles) at the Bayreuth Festival, so they're more than ready for prime time. :)
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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by jserraglio » Thu May 16, 2019 11:13 am

John F wrote:
Wed May 15, 2019 11:03 pm
jserraglio wrote:
Wed May 15, 2019 12:43 pm
Kirill Petrenko
Certainly a plausible candidate, with Ring cycles in Munich and Bayreuth in his resumé. But as music director of the Bavarian State Opera and the Berlin Philharmonic, I doubt he can clear two months or more to rehearse and conduct three Ring cycles in New York, if indeed he would want to.
So who among credible upcoming Wagnerians would not already be booked to the gills?

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by John F » Thu May 16, 2019 12:36 pm

The Met just has to book its artists far enough ahead to get those it wants, and indeed that's how it's done. Peter Gelb said in effect that the Met's next 4-5 years are planned, including the artists, and that's typical for a major opera house competing with the others for the top talent. The Met's history and prestige are such that it should be able to do better than it recently has, and I expect it probably will. One problem is that any Met plans involving James Levine, its long-time leading Wagner conductor, are out the window, and it may have taken this long to fill that void. This is certainly a test of Gelb's and Nezet-Seguin's quality as managers of the company's artistic standards.
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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by maestrob » Thu May 16, 2019 12:40 pm

I may be way off the mark here, but I believe that Nezet-Seguin would make a formidable Wagner interpreter. He's already shown himself to be adept at repertoire as diverse as Dvorak's Rusalka, Verdi's La Traviata, and Bruckner's original version of his Third Symphony. I suspect that, given sufficient time for study, Nezet-Seguin would turn in a fine rendition of the Ring. For example, if one opera/year could be fit into the MET's schedule, in five years he would be completely prepared to present a complete cycle.

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by THEHORN » Thu May 16, 2019 1:10 pm

John, I didn't see or hear this Ring, but many others have great admiration for the way Philippe Jordan conducted it , including Anthony Tommasini . You are the only individual I know of who has called Jordan's conducting of the Ring "weak ".
With all due respect, you have consistently shown here how biased you are against the younger generation of conductors , despite the fact that there many outstanding talents among them including Jordan .
You said the same thing about Cornelius Meister , who recently mad this Met doubt conducting Don Giovanni . You automatically assumed that the Stuttgart opera is declining because he is their music director , citing previous ones there . This is so unfair .
I will have to withhold judgement on Meister until I hear him conduct , but Philippe Jordan has done truly impressive work on DVDs of Busoni's Doctor Faust from the Zurch opera and Massenet's either from the Vienna State opera .

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by Len_Z » Thu May 16, 2019 2:26 pm

Voluntary disclosure: I had a subscription to the second Ring cycle + tickets for separate performances of Rheingold and Die Walkure. After hearing the Rheingold I sold everything else. The level of conducting was that unbearable - I just didn't think that despite my reverence of Wagner (or exactly because of it) I could withstand it for four long nights in one week.

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by John F » Thu May 16, 2019 3:37 pm

THEHORN wrote:I didn't see or hear this Ring, but many others have great admiration for the way Philippe Jordan conducted it , including Anthony Tommasini . You are the only individual I know of who has called Jordan's conducting of the Ring "weak ".
If you read the review by Zachary Woolfe with which this thread began, you will find him saying:
Zachary Woolfe wrote:While Philippe Jordan’s conducting had moment-by-moment fleetness, and agile responsiveness to the singers, there was no sense of long-arching accumulations of intensity, little variety of mood or color. The sound was thin, murky and diffuse, like a cloudy broth; the brasses were inelegant even when not flubbing.
I heard bits of the Met Ring on the radio and there was nothing in it that persuaded me to keep listening. You, on the other hand, say you didn't see or hear any of it. While you say "many others have great admiration for the way Philippe Jordan conducted [the Ring]" I can't find any review by Tommasini or other favorable comments. Post links to them here if you can.

As for my so-called bias against "the younger generation of conductors," that's not so. In this thread I've named several whose conducting of the Ring or other major Wagner works I have heard and endorse. In my 78 years I have heard many performances of the Ring cycle on the stage, from Karajan in Vienna to Levine at the Met; in broadcasts; and in literally dozens of recordings of the complete cycle, individual operas, and important excerpts. In short, where the Ring is concerned I know from extensive personal experience what I'm talking about.

As for Cornelius Meister, my comment was based mainly on the Times review of his "Don Giovanni" at the Met, which was damning. Read it here if you wish:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/03/arts ... Position=1

During the 1960s the Army stationed me near Stuttgart, where many outstanding performances of the opera company were conducted by general music director Ferdinand Leitner and first kapellmeister Carlos Kleiber, then a very young conductor, so I have a special concern about what happens there. The Stuttgart opera as I knew it had and deserved better than Meister appears to be.

If you don't like my opinions, fine, but to call them biased, which essentially means unfair, is fighting words.
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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by THEHORN » Sat May 18, 2019 3:16 pm

John, I'm only about 13 years younger than you and have been listening to Ring performances an recordings , not to mention all the other Wagner take works , since I was a teenager .
While I admire great Wagner conductors of the past such as Furtwangler, Knappertsbusch and others , I've heard many ones from the present day which were in no way inferior, merely different .
I still thinks it's unfair to dismiss conductors like Philippe Jordan and Cornelius Meister out of hand .One of my Facebook friends, who recently joined the Met orchestra as second horn , made some highly favorable comments about Jordan's conducting of the Ring .

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by John F » Sun May 19, 2019 5:25 am

I see you haven't been able to provide even one of those favorable comments and reviews by "many others" that you spoke of. You yourself can't approve or disapprove of Philippe Jordan's because you haven't heard a note of it, nor apparently read any reviews. The New York Times reviewer Zachary Woolfe, a professional critic sitting where he could hear the performance properly as your friend the Met horn player couldn't, wrote a negative review which you overlooked and still don't acknowledge.

If all you were saying then was what you're saying now, then there'd be no problem. But you challenged my making discriminating choices among Wagner conductors past and present, as far as I can tell simply because they don't agree with yours, so I had to counter that and defend myself. You still haven't granted that I know what I'm talking about. Speak of your own preferences all you like, but please spare us uninformed dismissive criticism of others' judgments, including mine.

P.S. It occurs to me that from your posts in CMG, you are much more easily pleased by just about every conductor than I am. That's fine with me, but apparently it bothers you, as it's what your criticism of my so-called "bias" amounts to.
Last edited by John F on Sun May 19, 2019 1:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by jserraglio » Sun May 19, 2019 5:53 am

I heard Siegfried, 05-09-2019 performance, Jordan conducting , and liked it a lot.
A lot better, as I recall, than I did PBS's 2012 Siegfried.

Reviews

https://observer.com/2019/04/stefan-vin ... ed-review/

http://newyorkclassicalreview.com/2019/ ... dammerung/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertai ... fb02049852

Profiles of Philippe Jordan

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/19/arts ... g.amp.html

https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.thegua ... don-carlos
Last edited by jserraglio on Sun May 19, 2019 7:07 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by lennygoran » Sun May 19, 2019 7:07 am

jserraglio wrote:
Sun May 19, 2019 5:53 am
PBS's 2012 Siegfried.

Could you explain what the PBS Siegfried was-is that the Met's production--the Lepage production-I saw that live and loved it? I have it on VCR tape now thanks to PBS and Great Performances. BTW the conductor listed was Derrick Inouye so maybe you're referring to another Siegfried. Regards, Len [confused]

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by jserraglio » Sun May 19, 2019 7:13 am

It was the Met Lepage monster production led by Levine/Luisi. I watched it several times on my DVD-r and liked it but so far I like the Jordan Ring better.

Zachary Wolfe aside, the reviews of the Jordan Ring have been mixed but leaned toward the positive.
Last edited by jserraglio on Sun May 19, 2019 3:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by lennygoran » Sun May 19, 2019 7:30 am

jserraglio wrote:
Sun May 19, 2019 7:13 am
It was the Met debut of the Lepage monster with Levine/Luisi. I watched it several times on my DVD-r and liked it but so far I like the Jordan Ring better.<
Thanks for the clarification-so you liked Jordan conducting better than Derrick Inouye-am I correct in saying that it's the same production of Siegfried we're talking about-the Lepage Ring. Has PBS shown your favored Siegfried this season-I must have missed it-maybe you're saying it's just it being done on the radio-I thought you said the PBS Siegfried. Regards, Len

An Aside-I'm too much of a layman as a critic to judge conductors-for me it's like trying to argue about who was better-Campanella or Berra, Mantle or Mays, Musial or Williams! Regards, Len [fleeing] :lol:

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by jserraglio » Sun May 19, 2019 7:39 am

Actually, I both heard the radio bcst I got off the Web and watched the PBS show. Didn't know they had different conductors.

I agree about the conductor rating game. It's reminiscent of two little kids arguing which baseball card they own, Mantle or Maris, is better. Given that there is somebody playing today who may be their equal—MIKE TROUT.
Last edited by jserraglio on Sun May 19, 2019 3:07 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by lennygoran » Sun May 19, 2019 7:46 am

jserraglio wrote:
Sun May 19, 2019 7:39 am
MIKE TROUT.
Gotta admit I never heard of Mike Trout-still no way he can ever beat out my Whitey Ford! Regards, Len
PS-if you want to dispute this with me I'll be out in the garden planting dahlias-if you do make the trip bring gloves so you can do some weeding] :lol: :lol: :lol:

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by jserraglio » Sun May 19, 2019 7:49 am

I never heard of Mike Trout either till my son took me to see him. Angels outfielder not pitcher. A phenom.

And, who can say that Philippe Jordan, only 44, won't turn out to be that guy?

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by lennygoran » Sun May 19, 2019 8:05 am

jserraglio wrote:
Sun May 19, 2019 7:49 am
And, who can say that Philippe Jordan, only 44, won't turn out to be that guy?
Well I sure can-this Trout may get to be a Duke Snider but he'll never get to Willie Mays status! Regards, Len :lol:

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by jserraglio » Sun May 19, 2019 8:33 am

Everybody looks out their own window. Trout has Mantle/Mays caliber numbers already. Like Philippe Jordan in Europe, if not America, he already has achieved star status.

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by lennygoran » Sun May 19, 2019 7:38 pm

jserraglio wrote:
Sun May 19, 2019 8:33 am
Trout has Mantle/Mays caliber numbers already.
Maybe-still if he gets a leg injury it could effect his future-didn't Mantle develop a leg problem-still he carried on? Regards, Len

"In getting out of DiMaggio's way, Mantle tripped over an exposed drain pipe and severely injured his right knee. This was the first of numerous injuries that plagued his 18-year career with the Yankees. He played the rest of his career with a torn ACL."

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by jserraglio » Mon May 20, 2019 4:54 am

lennygoran wrote:
Sun May 19, 2019 7:38 pm
"Mantle tripped over an exposed drain pipe and severely injured his right knee."
Reminds me of Phillipe Jordan tripping over invidious comparisons to Ring conductors long dead and gone.

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by lennygoran » Mon May 20, 2019 5:24 am

jserraglio wrote:
Mon May 20, 2019 4:54 am
]Reminds me of Phillipe Jordan tripping over invidious comparisons to Ring conductors long dead and gone.
Talk about comparisons if this was the only baton available in the house I think Mickey would have to be called in to pinch hit for Jordan! Regards, Len :lol:

Image

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by jserraglio » Mon May 20, 2019 5:41 am

lennygoran wrote:
Mon May 20, 2019 5:24 am
jserraglio wrote:
Mon May 20, 2019 4:54 am
]Reminds me of Phillipe Jordan tripping over invidious comparisons to Ring conductors long dead and gone.
Talk about comparisons if this was the only baton available in the house I think Mickey would have to be called in to pinch hit for Jordan! Regards, Len :lol:

Image
I think even Mickey would hesitate before stirring up the music-critics' hornets nest of self-styled Lords of the Rings! Likely to put him down for not being Ruth or Gehrig.

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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by John F » Mon May 20, 2019 6:13 am

jserraglio wrote:
Mon May 20, 2019 4:54 am
Reminds me of Phillipe Jordan tripping over invidious comparisons to Ring conductors long dead and gone.
Some are dead but not gone, thanks to recordings. Others named in this thread such as Thielemann and Petrenko aren't dead. If Jordan comes off the worse from such comparisons, so much the worse from him.
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Re: Bored of the ‘Ring’

Post by jserraglio » Mon May 20, 2019 6:51 am

John F wrote:
Mon May 20, 2019 6:13 am
If Jordan comes off the worse from such comparisons, so much the worse from him.
I've now heard three of the 4 Ring operas Jordan conducted at the Met. And conclude that he has no reason to take a back seat to Thielmann (if and when he bothers to show up) or Barenboim and Petrenko (both of whose Bayreuth Rings I have listened to via broadcast).

So, judging from what I've heard of contemporary Ring performances, so much the better from Jordan.

I also have a soft spot for Gielen's Frankfurt Ring of the late 1980s.

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