Last month, browsing the book stalls located outside the BFI under the Waterloo Bridge on London’s South Bank, I found a volume I had never seen before – The Ring: Anatomy of an Opera, by Stephen Fay and Roger Wood.
Fay chronicles the preparation of the 1983 Bayreuth Ring production, directed by Peter Hall, conducted by Georg Solti and designed by William Dudley. I didn’t see this production, which immediately followed the Chereau Centennial Ring and preceded Harry Kupfer’s mounting (the first Bayreuth Ring I attended). It certainly sounded promising on paper and, as Fay relates, certainly came a cropper, its run ending after four years rather than the usual five. Solti was able to conduct only the first season.
The book is painfully candid on topics that are usually told indirectly if at all – the failure of Reiner Goldberg to tackle the role of Siegfried, the approaching of other designers and other singers than the ones eventually engaged, Hall’s continuing aspiration to open only the first two shows in 1983 and then the second half in 1984.
Most astringent in the narrative was Wolfgang Wagner, who is portrayed as a nasty-tempered, protective, hair-triggered old autocrat. His behavior towards Hall was toxic, and when asked in retrospect why he was so insulting to a critical member of a critical team engaged in a project critical to his theatre, confessed that he was offended that Hall had not come to him to ask advice on how to solve the many staging challenges that the work offers. For his part, Hall doesn’t suffer from excessive meekness, responding to frustrations by threats to quit, apparently on the assumption that his participation was so valuable that, when confronted by the prospect of his absence, opposition would melt away.
The willingness of the Bayreuth staff to accommodate the demands of the designer and director was also brought into question, though I was appalled anew at the sheer wastefulness of the endeavor, as expense was incurred on element after element of the design, only to be jettisoned when it did not work as hoped.
By this point, a “vintage” book, but one I was pleased to read, and still available not only on Amazon but, presumably, under a Waterloo Bridge near you!