When I interviewed Richard Farnes in Leeds six years ago about Opera North’s project of performing the complete Ring, he struck me as the most modest conductor I had met or could imagine, with the possible exception of Reginald Goodall, who actually at a deep level wasn’t modest at all. Everything I had heard Farnes conduct had been on the highest level, but none of it had been Wagner. I wasn’t sceptical of his ability to do a complete Ring cycle, just bemused in a general way about the boundless ambition of the work and the unassertiveness of the man who would lead it.
Year by year my highest hopes have been fulfilled, as each of the four parts of the Ring received the best performance that I have heard live for many years, certainly during the present century.
Now, after a rest year, the whole cycle is being performed in various cities, and I chose the second Leeds cycle, partly because of my affection for Leeds Town Hall, partly because I wanted to see it within the shortest period, which was six days. To my everlasting regret I was sabotaged by flu after Die Walküre and had to beat a miserable retreat. There is the consolation, however, that the cycle I saw was being filmed for future streaming, and that BBC Radio 3 will be broadcasting it live in early July.
Though the performances have been consistent in their approach and quality over the years, the casts have varied considerably, partly by design, partly because various singers have matured to the point where they are able to take bigger roles than originally envisaged, or the reverse. This year there are three Wotans, two Brünnhildes, two Siegfrieds, some new to this production, some not.