Tuesday found me dithering about going up to London. I know it is Bryn I thought but can I really sit in the Albert Hall in this temperature I asked myself and, yes I could and I did. But oh my goodness it was like a cauldron in there. Packed house, not sure how many thousands it takes, but just imagine all that body heat, bad enough on an ordinary day but when the temperature was about 90F outside (I don't do centigrade) and over 100F inside, it was unbearable. How the performers coped is a mystery to me and they deserve a gold medal for sheer stamina.
Right, performance first. Now I have to be honest and say that though the papers have been raving about Barenboim's Ring, I am not so sure. Oh I enjoyed it and Die Walkure has to be done pretty badly not to blow you away, but there was something missing, for me at least. I think it is because I am not overly fond of Daniel B, never have been and I have never deliberately sought him out as either a pianist or a conductor. My main reason for attending this Prom was that Bryn Terfel was singing Wotan and I will grab any affordable opportunity to hear him do so.
As I am sure you all know by now I first heard Bryn when he appeared in the Cardiff Singer of the World contest about 27 years ago. He sang the first act aria from The Flying Dutchman and I could not believe what I was hearing. I said then that in twenty years time he would be a great Wotan and when he did his first Ring I would be there to hear it, and I was. It was good then but he really has grown into the part over the last ten years or so and it is now in his heart and soul. He is a weak, fallible, tortured Wotan, capable of great love but is also deceitful and full of self hatred. The one shining thing in his life is Brunnhilde and it breaks his heart to have to leave her at the end of this opera surrounded by the ring of fire. His performance was superb. I adore him.
I am not going to comment on the rest of the cast and the orchestra as the papers have had their say on this. They played superbly well and the cast sang superbly well. I am not sure that I like some of Barenboim's tempi which I found somewhat rushed, but as I learned my Wagner with Reginald Goodall who was notoriously slow, that is hardly surprising. I have heard it done faster but less frenetic if that makes sense, but I am nit picking and overall the evening was wonderful.
There were two issues during this Prom which have made the Press the first one being an altercation between DB and his leader of the orchestra (or Konzertmeister) at the end of Act II. It appeared that somebody in the string section cocked up big time and DB let rip about it. First of all, hardly the leader's fault; secondly, DB had no business to do anything in public in front of a packed Albert Hall and with the standing Prommers less than ten feet away. Discourteous, unprofessional and downright unpleasant and no matter what he may have felt this discussion should have taken place back stage. Pity the performance wasn't on television so the viewers could have seen his disgraceful behaviour. Apologists have rushed to his defence citing the heat and it made him 'snap' - yeh well the orchestra were feeling it too and so were the soloists; oh he is a perfectionist and a genius and we must bear this in mind - well, I don't care if you are Einstein, there is no excuse for arrogant behaviour. End. Of.
OK other event - Nina Stemme who was Brunnhilde, came to a grinding halt in the final scene. In an opera house there is a prompter, but obviously not here and it was clear she was in trouble and had a memory lapse. Barenboim did not even turn round or give her a cue and it was left to Bryn, walking over and embracing her in character, who gave her her line and on she went and was fine for the rest of the opera. Again apologists for Barenboim said it would have been difficult to cue her in when he had his back to her and he probably did not want to turn round in case it made her mistake obvious! Utter bilge - it was already obvious, she looked distressed and everyone in the Albert Hall knew she had missed her line. We all felt for her and there was an audible sigh of relief when she continued.
The end of the opera saw the audience rise as one for this wonderful performance - I was cheering for the performers not the conductor and good to see Bryn, when he came out for his solo bow, going straight across to the leader, before acknowledging the audience, and shaking him warmly by the hand.
Now I cannot write a post without trying to inject a bit of levity and, let's face it after five hours of Wagner, a little bit will not go amiss. First up, I was sitting next to a guy who was dripping and I mean dripping with sweat. We all were and best just to sit as still as possible but this bloke fidgeted, kept wiping his brow and showing the result on his hands to his wife who put up with it for as long as she could and then when the orchestra was playing a loud bit, hissed at him Will you SHUT UP. He did. He did not return after the interval which I was pleased about as he had been wearing the most ghastly aftershave. His wife said to me Oh we have got plenty of room now and can stretch out so we both dumped our bags on his seat, kicked off our shoes and attempted to get comfortable.
By this stage of the evening the temperature was awful and I had the bright idea of using the ice cubes from my drink to cool me down. There were lots of them and I ended up shoving them down my bra and then looked up to find two other women looking at me in amazement. One then said My dear what a WONDERFUL idea and promptly tipped her ice down the front of her dress as well, followed by her friend. I think I managed to start off the equivalent of a Mexican Wave as people down the row started hurling ice cubes about their person. I must say it helped enormously.
I always find it hard to come out into the real world after Wagner. To step outside in a warm summer's night with traffic and people and buildings and streets always comes as a bit of a shock. I am surprised not to find a Walkyrie or a God around a corner and the music is in my head and will not go away.
Short Tube ride (thank goodness) to Mile End where my daughter Helen had waited up for me and after a lightening cold shower, bliss, got into bed prepared for oblivion. I should have known. After Wagner I can never sleep, I am too elated by it all and did not drop off until nearly 1 am. At 6am I heard a giggling and a cry of 'Grandma, grandma................'