Patrick O’Connor

A Vision In A Dream

Wagner and the Art of the Theatre

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Yale University Press 352pp £29.95 order from our bookshop

The Ring: An Illustrated History of Wagner’s Ring at the Royal Opera House

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Oberon Books 182pp £35 order from our bookshop

Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen did not arrive at Covent Garden until 1892, nine years after the composer’s death. The conductor was Gustav Mahler, the stage director Friedrich Heinrich. As can be seen in the illustrations in John Snelson’s history of Ring stagings at the Royal Opera House, the costumes followed closely the traditions that had been established by the original Bayreuth production in the 1870s. Thus it remained, wherever the operas were performed, for decades: Brünnhilde’s spear and winged helmet, Wotan’s wide-brimmed hat and eyepatch and the young Siegfried’s bearskin tunic, armlet and sandals were as familiar to opera-goers as were Faust’s striped tights, Tosca’s poke-bonnet and tall walking stick or Orpheus’s toga and lyre. While singers and conductors might alter radically their individual interpretations, visually much opera was stuck in a rut from which few wanted to rescue it. The staunchest conservative of all was Wagner’s widow, Cosima: she saw it as her duty as keeper of the flame to ensure that everything should be done so far as possible in the manner of which the Master had approved.

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