John Tomlinson on the RING

How I would direct Wagner’s Ring

Last Updated: 12:01am BST 26/09/2007

The world’s longest opera overflows with
thrilling drama and sublime music – so why is it so hard to get
right on stage?

As the Royal Opera mounts its latest cycle with
John Tomlinson as Wotan, we ask him and two other Wagnerphiles to
explain how they would like to see it done

John Tomlinson

In 2000, there were plans to do a Ring at Opera North, which I was
going to direct. I’m glad it didn’t work out because you can’t
combine singing and directing.

  Wagner's Rheinemaidens
Why is Wagner so hard to get right on stage?

If somebody said, “We’re inviting you to direct a new Ring in
2010”, I’d retire from singing now and spend a year thinking about
it in a creative way. I’d go to every musical and theatrical
performance, and I would immerse myself.

Some directors don’t do their homework. I’ve worked with directors
— and Germans, too — who basically don’t know the piece. You come to
the first rehearsal and the director has no idea what the piece is

I have some framework of a vision. It would go in the direction of
straight theatre. I would definitely revert to more of a
responsibility on the singers for true acting performances. There
has been an increasing trend in opera generally to prevent singers
acting. Great expressionistic acting of opera singers was demanded
15 years ago. Now designers are getting stronger and singers are up
against more physical restrictions. Somebody like Robert Wilson
says: “I don’t ever want to see any expressionistic acting ever
again. I want singers to be like in kabuki.”

My whole career has been developing singing-acting. You are not
being showy; you are being convincing, and you are allowing the
piece to move the audience through your performance, and that’s what
I will continue to do whether anybody likes it or not really. The
Ring is a myth, and you can set it absolutely anywhere and do it in
all sorts of different ways. You could almost do it as a play within
a play.


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