Leeds-based Opera North have been regular visitors to Nottingham’s Theatre Royal for more than 30 years.
During those three decades they’ve delighted and dazzled local music fans with an impressive and varied line-up of fully staged productions that show you don’t have to go to London, New York or Milan to experience great opera.
This was more than evident last week when it was back in town with its four-day retelling of the musical marathon that is Wagner’s The Ring Cycle (Der Ring des Nibelungen) moving next door to the city’s 2,500-seater Royal Concert Hall.
This 16-hour, once-in-a-lifetime experience requires stamina and dedication from performers and musicians alike, none more so than Opera North’s orchestra on stage for each of the four days and its musical director, Richard Farnes, who ends his 12-year tenure with the company on a high note with his skills as a Wagnerian interpreter.
Such plaudits could also be lauded on a near-capacity audience of Wagner fans old and new who on three of the days had to be in their seats by 3pm . . . although they were able to head home shortly before 10pm.
Stripping away costumes and props, Opera North’s concert staging of the complete cycle was a visual winner from the start with Peter Mumford’s inventive stage and lighting concept using a hi-tech, three-screen backdrop to the unfolding saga.
This eye-catching approach -- which featured potted synopses of the unfolding plot and an easy-to-read translation of the German libretto -- brought a fresh focus to Wagner’s epic masterpiece based on Nordic and German legends of heroes, gods, giants and dragons battling for control of a magic ring which grants power and wealth to its owner.
Fans of Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings would have been at home with this all-singing drama, taking its cue from the tale of Alberich, one of the race of Nibelungen dwarves who live in the bowels of the Earth where they mine for precious metals.
But when Alberich steals gold from the Rhine maidens it’s the start of four evenings of trouble starting with Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold) -- the first of a quartet of interlinked stories of politics, marital strife, riddles and love conquering the corrupt power of the gods -- a mere romp by Wagnerian standards at 2 hours 40 minutes without an interval.
This opener, and the other three, self-contained operas in the Ring Cycle, are often staged separately, but last week’s productions gave the chance for Wagner fans from near and far (it was said they came from all over the UK, Europe and even Australia) the chance to be swept along by all the action over four days just as the composer intended.
Wagner at his best was arrogant and awkward, but these traits served him well as he composed the music and words for The Ring Cycle over a 28-year period, this total control extending to him overseeing the premieres of the four operas -- Das Rheingold and Die Walkure (The Valkyrie) in Munich and Siegfried and Gotterdammerung (Twilight of the Gods) in Bayreuth -- from 1869 to 1876.
Fast forward more than 130 years and Opera North displayed similar commitment as shown by Wagner as it took on the brave and creative challenge to present all four instalments of the Ring Cycle in successive years, starting in 2011 with Das Rheingold.
Since then the three other works (presented in collaboration with Sage Gateshead and Symphony Hall, Birmingham) followed as summer treats for Leeds theatregoers, but it wasn’t until this year that Nottingham audiences were able to enjoy the whole cycle all in one week.
And what a bargain it was with tickets for the four operas ranging from £50 to £196 - five times cheaper than a similar staging in Germany.
These prices had already ensured a box office hits in April and May at Leeds Town Hall while it’s returns only later this month at London’s Southbank Centre and then at the Sage Gateshead, the latter venue hosting BBC Radio 3’s broadcast of the cycle on four evenings from July 5 - 10.
* More Wagner will also be available at the touch of a button next month when Stephen Fry presents Bayreuth’s fully-staged production of the Ring Cycle, complete with stage-of-the-art technology, on the Sky Arts channel on the weekend of This was more than evident last week when it was back in town with its four-day retelling of the musical marathon that is Wagner’s The Ring Cycle (Der Ring des Nibelungen) moving next door to the city’s 2,500-seater Royal Concert Hall.