Presented over three days, the 24-hour version of Richard Wagner’s “the Ring of the Nibel- ungs” presented by the tyrolean Festival had its China premiere at the Shanghai Symphony Hall over three days with a 70 per- cent occupancy rate.
Wagner’s masterpiece has four chapters — the Rhinegold‚ the Valkyrie‚ Siegfried and the twilight of the Gods — and is 16 hours long. It is usually pre- sented over four days. the 24-hour version is an epic piece created by conductor Gustav Kuhn in 2003 for the ty- rolean Festival. It is a challenge for the musicians as well as the audiences because of its length and intensity.
For the Shanghai perfor- mance, the second and the third chapters were staged on Satur- day from 5pm to 4am the next day with only a two-hour break in between. the performance ended yesterday afternoon.
“Many of my friends told me that I would be dead if I com- pleted the whole work within 24 hours,” says Kuhn. “But I survived, and did it well.”
Kuhn said the 24-hour version was not a big challenge for the conductor as long as he knows the whole piece in its entirety, but it can be very demanding for the musicians because they have to keep play- ing throughout. Special training is required for the whole team for such presentations. “I am very proud that we are still the only team in the world which is capable of present- ing this version,” says Kuhn. the epic opera was staged in Asia for the first time.
“It was not unusual for Euro- pean or Chinese audiences to attend an eight-hour long opera performance in the old times,” says Kuhn. “But today long performances surprise people because we are living in a fast- paced world. I believe it will be good for us sometimes to try and return to the tradition of appreciating art and music with long-term concentration. that is why he (Wagner) initiated the piece in the first place.”
After presenting the 24-hour version for the first time at the tyrolean Festival 12 years ago, Kuhn said he felt like the audi- ence had left since he did not hear any applause. But as he slowly put his hands down and turned back, the crowd broke into applause which lasted 40 minutes. the performance by the 120- member orchestra, 80-member chorus and 39 solo opera sing- ers at the Shanghai Symphony Hall was hugely appreciated by the audience.
Kuhn has added modern ele- ments into his version such as picturing the giants as baseball and ice hockey athletes and have the Valkyries dressed in leather jeans. “the audio effect was differ- ent with the orchestra on stage rather than in the orchestra pit. It was like pouring all the com- plicated Wagner’s symphony into your ear,” said Li Changy- ing, a music critic. “And the Valkyries shuttling on the stage in bicycles were very impressive.”
But some among the audi- ences admitted it was tiring to watch after a certain point.
“I actually felt very sleepy when ‘Siegfried’ started at 11pm, but was refreshed and excited shortly after. that is probably the magic of the Ring,” said Zhang Fei.