Preparations for my role in Das Rheingold, Wotan, have now completely taken over my life, and its hard to believe that there are only three weeks of rehearsals left before the first performance on June 18th. Over the last year or so, I’ve collected so many books on the subject of Wagner and the Ring Cycle that my bookshelf collapsed under the combined weight of them. My neighbours may also have been driven mad by listening to recordings too often through the walls – but I have to turn the volume up, this is operatic heavy metal! I hope that they are growing to love it as much as I do.
Of course, among the loud bits and the big orchestral moments, there are many quiet passages too. This is music which is all-encompassing and extraordinarily varied. Learning it is like trying to build a very big wall, layering it up brick by brick. Everything has to be completely integrated and focused, the parts demand real mental stamina. There are sections where I will be on stage for 30 or 40 minutes with perhaps only four or five lines, so total concentration is required for the full performance – there are no easy bits. In many ways it is like preparing for a marathon. All of the parts are so complex that singers can spend two or three years getting ready to perform them.
So far, I have been rehearsing with Martin Pickard, Opera North’s Head of Music, and this has been a tremendous voyage of discovery for me. Next week, however, all of the singers will begin to rehearse together, and so we will start to add more bricks to the wall. I am looking forward to singing with everyone in the cast, but in particular it will be a pleasure to work again with Wolfgang Ablinger Sperrhacke [Loge], who I performed with in Peter Grimes at Glyndebourne a few years ago.
We will be performing Das Rheingold in concert staging, with the singers standing in front of the orchestra, so the challenge is to really get the story and characters across to the audience within the music itself. Musically, the entire Ring Cycle is coloured by the full range of emotion, and lots of it is very intimate, based on conversations between the characters. It is back-to-basics storytelling, but there will also be elements of film, lighting and text to add to the atmosphere and create a very immersive experience for the audience.
Wotan is a big, complex character – a king, a father figure, he is also a reckless, restless character with a huge ego. Research suggests that Wagner identified himself with Wotan, and I think this is a character which represents all of man’s feelings, wishes and desires rolled into one. This is an opera which asks big questions about human nature, good and evil; it is awe-inspiring that one man could create this entire spectacle, the whole world which exists in the Ring cycle from the first notes evoking the waters of the Rhine. It’s a wonderful, childlike, fantasy world which can be very immediate and personal as well as having timeless and universal appeal.
This is a 14 hour adventure, and Das Rheingold is only the beginning.
Das Rheingold opens at Leeds Town Hall on Saturday 18 June. Further performances take place at Leeds Town Hall (1 July, 8 September) Birmingham Symphony Hall (24 June) The Sage, Gateshead (26 June) and The Lowry, Salford Quays (10 September). For more information and booking details, click here.