Wagner: The Ring
Peter Bassett (speaker): Vienna Philharmonic: Sir Georg Solti
DECCA 480 7311: 4CD: TPT: 257’28”
reviewed by Neville Cohn
Wagner’s incomparable set of music dramas, known collectively as The Ring of the Nibelungs, has been around for a long time. It entered the operatic mainstream years ago. Yet, it is still far too often the case that even seasoned concert- or opera-goers feel intimidated by it. They will happily listen to extracts – Ride of the Valkyries, say, or Siegfried’s Funeral March – but they will shy away from experiencing the work in its entirety. When asked, timid opera goers will mumble about inordinate length, paucity of memorable melody and its being ‘too difficult’ or ‘too heavy’.
Yet, more often than not, those who avoid, or condemn, The Ring have never attended a performance of one or all of the cycle. They mumble clichés: The Ring is too complicated, they say, too dreary, depressing, without catchy, memorable melodies and inextricably associated with notions of overweight sopranos who do nothing but stand on one spot and sing too loudly and at great length. They will sometimes say they are put off The Ring because Hitler liked it so there has to be something wrong with it.
Nonsense? Certainly. But how to persuade and convert the doubters not only to dip a toe into but top jump in? How to tempt them to experience this masterpiece in toto?
DECCA has responded to this challenge in the most practical and effective way.
So, timid, vacillating listeners, fear not. Operatic salvation is at hand.
And DECCA has the solution to the problem. And if this 4-CD set doesn’t manage to transform listeners into passionate and loyal followers of The Ring, I don’t know what will.
Our heroes are two gentlemen steeped in Wagnerian tradition. One is very well known – Sir Georg Solti – the other, Peter Bassett, less so but as crucial to leading the nervous novice across Wagner’s formidable operatic landscape.
Bassett’s great gift, apart from his encyclopaedic knowledge of The Ring, is his ability to make the seemingly complex approachable, to explain in the most straightforward and appealing way what the Ring story is all about. This is just the thing – and not only for those who are intimidated. Even the most enthusiastic and informed of Ring followers will find fascinating facts, perhaps even revelations – on this operatic journey of discovery in the company of Bassett, Solti, singers (some legendary) and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.