Sam Goodyear reviews Stefan Herheim's production of Der Ring des Nibelungen at Deutsche Oper, Berlin (2024)

An exploration of power, freedom and love conducted through the control of scenic and musical progression

Photo: Bernd Uhlig / Deutsche Oper Berlin

“Who’s in charge?” In current times, when the idea of a Rousseauian social contract in western societies often seems fantastically far fetched, this question, currently emblazoned on a panel outside the Deutsche Oper Berlin, is more pertinent than ever. For whatever voting system may be in place in this or that country, does an electorate’s decision come polling day really make them “in charge” of their political lives? Or, as Lenin once said, are we the people merely “allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress” us? If those of us with comfortable lives and voting rights might sometimes feel at least a little like that, then how can those deprived of any voice at all – the homeless, the displaced, those people simply unfortunate enough to have been born in the “wrong” place – hope to feel like they have any power over their own futures?

In any case, whether this question’s placement in front of the house were intended to tie in with the revival of Stefan Herheim’s production of the Ring, I am not sure; but if it were not, it most certainly could have been. For Herheim’s staging attempts to give a voice back to the voiceless, or at least to make us in the audience think about what those voices might say if they were given a means to be listened to. Set up metatheatrically as a play-within-a-play, the production sees a group of refugees attempt to regain agency in their lives by putting on the Ring, leading to an exploration of power, freedom and love conducted through the control of scenic and musical progression by Wagner’s characters and the refugee actors playing them.

Das Rheingold introduced us to the elements of this concept that would continue over the four evenings. Before a note was played, a line of people, suitcases in hand, processed across the stage towards a grand piano. At the head of the line was Wotan, who stopped and lifted the lid to play a single E flat as the music began. That we were witnessing some singers play a group of people performing the Ring, as opposed to just witnessing some singers perform the Ring, was reinforced by the house lights remaining up for much of the first scene as if we were watching a rehearsal, as well as the introduction of simple props such as plain white sheets that would lend a certain am-dram feel to events on stage throughout the next fifteen hours. Along with these sheets, the suitcases carried on at the start would go on to form the set for much of the cycle, the refugees presumably making do with what they had. According to Herheim in his programme notes, the suitcases were also intended to “connect the past with the future and determine the journey”.

Costume, too, played a role, with the refugee playing Alberich applying clown make-up as the Rhinemaidens sang. Was this an association of the character with buffoonery? Or maybe a hidden sadness beneath the make-up? Perhaps; although I wonder whether the tradition of “wise fools” such as Feste in Twelfth Night meant the make-up was an indication that Alberich was very much to be viewed as a character speaking hard truths to us about power and love. By the time that Mime appeared, dressed on the one hand as Richard Wagner himself, but on the other hand in a blue and white shirt reminiscent of a holocaust victim, it became apparent that these refugees were using costumes designed both to make us think about the role of these characters in the work, and also about their reception in the real world. After all Mime is on the one hand, like Wagner, the skilled craftsman and creator, and on the other, a character often held up as an example of the composer’s antisemitism possibly infiltrating his operas.

As a metaphor for power though, it was artistic control of music that would standout the most throughout the cycle. The grand piano seen in the first scene would remain a constant on stage throughout the four operas, and beginning with Fricka and Freia ascending from it at the start of scene two, was frequently the means by which characters entered and exited the stage. If Wotan playing the first note had been an indication that he was “in charge” at the start of the piece, then Alberich taking a trumpet instead of some gold seemed to represent the fact that he was now dictating events. Starting with Loge during his explanation of the value of the gold and the ring, and continuing with Alberich during the descent into Nibelheim, various characters also sat at the piano and played along with the music, sometimes even miming other people’s lines, as if it were their turn to be in control. The idea that none of these characters (or actors) really did have power though, was suggested by the way in which Mime and Wotan read from a copy of the score, perhaps indicating that they (and we) were all bound to some extent by the conventions, rules, and expectations laid out for us by those previously in charge.

For the next two evenings, the production largely developed these ideas and themes. Die Walküre opened in a hut constructed from suitcases and introduced a new figure into the proceedings, one that on initial viewing I thought might simply have been a metaphorical embodiment of Sieglinde’s inner turmoil. The programme notes would reveal it to be this, but also a real adolescent child of Hunding and Sieglinde. That her killing of the child, upon Siegmund’s drawing of Nothung from the tree (or in this case, the grand piano), then represented an extreme form of liberation from the trauma of her forced marriage was clear, although it had the side effect, intended or otherwise of making Sieglinde a less sympathetic character, and her union with Siegmund less celebratory.

Brünnhilde emerged from the piano at the start of Act II wearing an old-school Wagnerian costume, in another nod to the history of character reception in the Ring. Was this a refugee actress giving us, the Wagnerian public, what we expect? Her shield also reminded us that this was not the “real” Brünnhilde but one of many travellers acting a role, given that it bore the masks of comedy and tragedy on its front: art, then, clearly acting as a means of defence for this migrant. A collection of refugees who had not been cast in lead roles watched on, worried, as Wotan and Fricka quarrelled over Siegmund, before Fricka signalled her triumph and control by playing the Valkyrie motif at the piano as Brünnhilde returned.

The idea that it was the score itself rather than his contracts that limited the freedom of Wotan to stage manage events returned at this point too, as he tore pages out of it after declaring himself “unfreiester Aller”, and pointed at it on the line “das sind die Bande, die mich binden”. This expansion of the score metaphor was certainly interesting, if initially confusing: on the one hand, given the fixed nature of libretto and musical notation, a performance of the Ring will always end with the same words having been said and notes having been played. Was the refugee-Wotan expressing frustration in opera not being as malleable a vehicle for self-determination as he had hoped? With the house lights once again going up on “nur Eines will ich noch: das Ende”, he could certainly have been viewed as a man asking for the rehearsal to be stopped. On the other hand, though words and notes in a score may not change, how those words and notes are interpreted – the journey on which we go to get from E flat major to D flat major fifteen hours later – is different every time. And since the performance did not stop here, nor at the later breaking of the spear, perhaps we were being asked to consider whether the specific actions or words on stage were really the message at all, or whether instead, despite any “inevitability”, it was the act of performance itself that was cathartic, uplifting, or revelatory for this group of people (and, indeed, for us)?

The dead son of Hunding and Sieglinde returned, along with other refugees playing fallen heroes, during the opening of Act III, during which the Valkyries would defend both themselves and Sieglinde from them. The fact that the men undressed to their underwear suggested the threat both of demons from the past and also of sexual violence. Use of the score and the piano as symbols of control continued, with Sieglinde holding the former and Brünnhilde tinkling the ivories during “O hehrstes Wunder”, before a final scene in which the crowd of refugees returned to watch Brünnhilde and Wotan. That nothing was done with the score on the line “freier als ich der Gott” was something of a surprise given what had come before, but Brünnhilde descending into the piano for her sleep was not. Orange lights on white sheets represented the magic fire, before Mime-as-Wagner returned during the final bars to deliver Sieglinde’s baby, again on top of the piano.

A rocky slope made out of suitcases rose during the first act of Siegfried to reveal Mime’s workshop below. Given his ongoing appearance as the composer and the running thread of power being represented by being in charge of the music, the fact that his workshop’s finished products were a selection of brass instruments (although with curiously few Wagner tubas...) made sense, the character here attempting to gain creative control through the making of instruments themselves. With Mime’s attempts to reforge Nothung himself ultimately ending in failure, was there also a message here about how much heed we should pay to the contemporary trend to fetishise “the composer’s intentions” in performance? Or, since the character also continued to wear a blue and white striped shirt, were we being asked to ponder the lack of control Wagner as creator had over the reception and misuse of his operas after his death? Both I think; and the fact that Siegfried wore a cliched bearskin outfit seemed to lend credence to the idea that although Wagner may have been the director of the first Ring, he was not necessarily the real father of all subsequent ones.

Conducting then came to the fore as the means of musical authority during scenes two and three, further developing this line of thought. First Mime beat time while the Wanderer sang, and then Siegfried took up the imaginary baton at the moment he made the decision to reforge Nothung himself. Instead of his lack of finesse with solder and rasp, it therefore became Siegfried’s lack of a clear downbeat that was the cause of criticism from Mime, something that brought to mind the Trial Song in Die Meistersinger. Still, unlike Beckmesser, Mime recognises that his musical rule-breaker will succeed without using a craftsman’s techniques when he sings “Hier hilft kein Kluger, das seh’ ich klar...” A recognition in this case that a true home for these refugees would only be found through rejecting the established conventions of operatic performance? And therefore, perhaps also a kind of metatheatrical sales pitch by Herheim for his approach?
Fafner, too, was an embodiment of music, the suitcases rising to reveal dragon’s teeth in the form of the bells of tubas manipulated by refugees. Following his death, the refugee singing his part broke character, stood up, and began talking to the Woodbird whilst Alberich and Mime argued, once more reminding us of the absence of any real fourth wall for the performance. The Tarnhelm, meanwhile, now appeared to be a clown mask, and was worn by the Woodbird during the exchanges leading up to Mime’s death, perhaps highlighting a similarity with Alberich in being a character that helps to reveal difficult truths, in this case to Siegfried. More notably, the revelations of Mime’s inner thoughts saw the character gradually lose his Wagner costume piece by piece until only his underwear remained. Wagner, then, as an emperor with no clothes, to whom neither audience nor opera director should be overly deferential?

Erda emerged not from the piano but from the prompter’s box in Act III (as she had also done in Das Rheingold), which fit nicely with her role as the omniscient earth mother. Alberich watched on amused for much of the scene, including when Erda was strangled by the Wanderer. Rather than simply being a brutal, final dismissal of the old order, Herheim suggests in his programme notes that the God’s summoning of her represents an attempt to reestablish male dominance. Such an interpretation would then make the motive for the murder explicit misogyny, an intensification of the threat of sexual violence towards (migrant?) women that had been hinted at in Die Walküre. Following a more or less standard exposition of the breaking of the spear, Siegfried played the piano as he crossed the fire, with both the Wanderer and Alberich looking on.
The crowd of refugees were onlookers for Brünnhilde’s awakening, forming an audience-within-the play. That this was intended to be as much an awakening for the real-life audience as well as Brünnhilde was made evident by Siegfried delivering the line “Wie weck’ ich die Maid, daß sie ihr Auge mir öff’ne?” directly out to the house. Like Mime before her, Brünnhilde removed her costume (on the line “Brünnhilde bin ich nicht mehr”), perhaps indicating that we were now watching an honest discovery of love between two refugees rather than the two characters. The refugee audience, meanwhile, applauded enthusiastically at the pair’s initial coming together, before splitting into two separate groups of men and women. Over the couple’s final exchanges, however, members of the crowd paired off and began having, or at least simulating, sex, both hetero- and homosexual. With regard to this, Herheim states in his programme notes that, “in the moment of greatest joy (Lust), all limits (Grenzen) must be transcended”. A sort of renunciation of rules, patriarchy, and oppression of women, and a regaining of agency through an orgiastic outburst of free love? A social, as well as political revolution by a collective dreaming of the possibilities of a new life? Perhaps.

For the final opera of the tetralogy, the dramaturgical focus shifted from being purely on the group of refugee-actors to also being more clearly on ourselves. For the first time since the beginning of the cycle, a set not created at least in part out of luggage was seen when the curtain opened to a tableau of contemporary middle-class people drinking wine inside the Deutsche Oper Berlin itself. Herheim explains this shift as follows: “When the Norns’ rope of fate breaks in the prelude, not only their eternal knowledge is lost, but also the previous narrative thread. In this way, the meaningful interface between art and reality is severed, which guarantees a solidarity (Zusammenhalt) of the collective experience of art”. In Herheim’s setting then, we the opera-going public are the Gibichungs, in his words an “easily manipulated people, who, however, have a special role as increasingly silent witnesses to the tragedy”, with the Deutsche Oper foyer representing “the social institutionalization of a myth and its changeability in reception”. We then, or rather representatives of us, were taking on roles in Götterdämmerung;and were being asked through this vicarious theatrical participation, as well as our own real viewing, to reflect on the impacts of how we interact with this art, how we might relate to refugees in the staging and in reality, and whether either viewing this production or empathizing with those depicted in it might lead to a kind of reawakening in us.

Given this, the immediate revelation that Hagen was “one of us”, quaffing champagne as the Norns sang, will, or in any case, should, have at least caused some fidgeting in the stalls. Of course, in a linear sense, portraying him in that way is difficult to reconcile with him being the son of a refugee, but maybe that was part of the point; that though the European bourgeoisie might feel they have nothing in common with people fleeing persecution, we are all just humans placed in more or less fortunate situations. And while some privileged people are, of course, open to helping the disadvantaged regain control of their lives, others would metaphorically stab people in the back until the cows come home if it meant keeping “undesirables” out of their hunting parties.

The refugee actors (and their suitcases) returned to see Siegfried off on his adventures, with the crowd this time donning school-of-Otto Schenk Ring costumes when Brünnhilde appealed to the “heilige Götter”. Had their self-discovery led them to a path of trying to give us the audience more of what we expect from a Ring…? Returning to the Deutsche Oper, Gunther and Gutrune were also dressed as opera guests, the former appearing in blue blazer like a middle-ranking functionary. Following Siegfried’s arrival from the piano (played by Hagen), champagne proved the catalyst for his interest in Gutrune, who appeared worried by his advances and fled into the arms of Hagen. The reaction of someone from the middle classes afraid to associate too closely with the common man? Even if not, after the oath was taken (blood mixed with more bubbles), Siegfried and Gunther got changed into white tie and tails, presumably an indication that both were now convinced of having made it into polite society.

Hagen held watch from the piano stool, oblivious to Alberich’s presence behind him, before wandering down into the auditorium to order Waltraute out of a seat in the front row, which he then took for himself. She ran to the far left of the stalls, before going on stage at Hagen’s insistence to plead with Brünnhilde. This was a curious choice, as it seemed odd for Hagen to want Waltraute to encourage her to return the ring to the Rhinemaidens. Was it simply the case of opera-fan Hagen knowing the outcome already, him merely playing his part and encouraging his fellow opera goer to do the same? Or was his directing of proceedings from the stalls a message that we as spectators are always in charge in the opera house, in that we can take from a production whatever we want to? Either way, we were once again asked to consider audience reception during Waltraute’s scene, as a “traditional” Wotan appeared with other stock Wagnerians during her singing, as if this were how she as an audience-member-turned-Valkyrie imagined them to be. Siegfried and Gunther, both wearing clown masks, shared the lines during the final scene of the act, before the former removed his and looked out at the audience as the house lights went up, with Alberich playing the piano behind him.
Hagen was still seated in row 1 for the start of Act II, and conducted his dialogue with Alberich from there, before turning to us to reveal he was also now in clown makeup, this representation of concealed sadness fitting given his statement “hass' ich die Frohen, freue mich nie!” Later, the vassals would arrive with opera programmes as their “starke Waffen”, as if knowledge of the work and the production were the true defence against possible outside threats. The Disney Wagnerians then returned, welcomed with open arms by Hagen. If that gesture seemed a clear enough display of bourgeois audience loyalty to conservative artistic traditions, then his use of Disney Wotan’s broken spear for Siegfried’s oath raised the question of whether refugees (or Stefan Herheim) dabbling in Regietheater might be the greatest sin of all for the loveless power-seekers amongst us. By the end of the scene, all the Gibichungs had clown make up. Was a clown sometimes just a clown? Were we the clowns?

For the final act, the Rhinemaidens first wore similar clothes to Brünnhilde, but then echoed the earlier physical appearance of the Norns by revealing bald heads from the moment they began telling Siegfried of his future. The hunting party then assembled in one of the bars of the Deutsche Oper, and took interval drinks while listening to Siegfried tell of his past, almost like children eager to hear for the umpteenth time the same bedtime story they already know from previous evenings. Hagen then stabbed Siegfried with the spear, and crowned himself with the fallen refugee’s winged hat. But that was not the final celebratory act of the audience’s leading on-stage representative in his short-lived moment of triumph over newness, change, or the rising of the downtrodden. For during the funeral music, Hagen decapitated Siegfried’s corpse, and held his head aloft to the Wotan-that-Wagner-intended as if to desperately seek his approval. To be fair to us, the rest of the Gibichungs were, by this time, horrified at what had taken place. Gutrune was no exception, and proceeded to cradle Siegfried’s head, Salome like, before she was stabbed along with Gunther by Hagen. Like the refugee playing Fafner in the previous opera though, both broke character, stood up, and returned to being mere viewers as Brünnhilde began the Immolation Scene.

Ur-Wotan sat at the piano during the early part of her monologue, although with the kind of production that he represented being in charge no longer, he did not play it. Then, on the line “Ruhe, ruhe du Gott”, Brünnhilde covered his eyes with her hand; at which point he rose and led the rest of the stereotypically dressed mythical characters in removing their costumes, which were all placed on the piano to form the funeral pyre. As the trappings of stagnant art went up in flames, the entire cast descended out of sight except Hagen, who initially remained at the side of the stage, deflated. But he either came to accept his loss, or the audience member playing him wanted us to understand that his character was not to be emulated, as he sang “Zurück vom Ring!” directly to us, and then discarded the sartorial spoils of his victory over Siegfried into the pit. As the redemption motif played, all that stood on stage was the piano, which a cleaning lady came to dust as the house lights rose one more time.

So, what did I actually make of all that? Well, let me start by saying that purely in terms of its stagecraft, the production only confirmed my long-standing opinion that Stefan Herheim is the greatest opera director in the world. Whether it be the big things, such as suitcases unexpectedly rising to form the faces of giants during Fasolt and Fafner’s entry in Das Rheingold, or the choreography of the tuba bells for Fafner as a dragon in Siegfried; or the little things, such as Mime adding extra clinks on his pot on the offbeats of Siegfried’s anvil banging, everything was self-evidently well thought out and realised with immense skill. The level of detail to stage action was also impressive in and of itself: my overview may seem long but I actually left out a huge amount of what happened for the sake of trying to deliver a clearer narrative – Loge setting things on fire with his fingers, skeleton fascists in Nibelheim, innumerable moments where white sheets were manipulated by people or used to display lighting effects, and many other things. To cover every bit of Personenregie or minor effect, one would basically need to write a book, but the point is, it was obvious that each line of the libretto had been considered, and deliberate directorial choices made in terms of action, placement of people on stage, or effects for a great many of them.

Regarding the actual concept of the production, and the experience of watching it, I’d also offer praise but with some qualifications. The flip side to the level of detail in the staging is that it was very complicated, and at times difficult to keep track of. Often one found oneself still pondering the significance of, say, a fixed shadow on a wall, only to realise that someone was already doing something else with a sheet and the house lights had gone up again, or whatever, meaning one had to then scramble to keep up. The metatheatricality of the concept, as well as the fact that multiple big themes were tackled within it, also made it unusually challenging to follow the staging’s messages in real time. Was it an opera singer undressing on stage at the end of Act II of Siegfried? Or a refugee? Or the character of Mime? Or Wagner? Or a holocaust victim? Probably some combination of all of them, which was simply a lot to try to get one’s head around in the moment, or even on the same evening. In more general terms, at times it felt as if we were being asked to think about major topics like the power of music, how refugees might regain agency, women’s rights, the historical tradition of Wagner performance, and the attitudes of the modern middle class, all at the same time. Essentially, I think there is a fairly good case to be made that the staging tries to do too much, and in doing so risks its audience feeling lost. Which, frankly, was how I sometimes felt at the time.

The funny thing is though, the more time that has passed since I was actually in the opera house watching it, the better the production has become in my mind. Having now had the chance to think further both about what I saw and what Herheim writes in his programme notes, more strands of what the director might be trying to say, or least ask us to ponder, have at least started to come into focus in my head. In some ways, I feel like writing this review has taken me on a little journey of my own. At time of writing, I don’t think there is necessarily a straightforward central message to the staging along the lines of “we should do this, or that bad thing will happen”, but there does not have to be. What I believe Herheim sets up, is, to begin with, a metaphor for refugees attempting a journey to a mythical, affluent promised land: in this case, to the world of the modern opera-going middle classes, complete with all the expectations associated with it. What they find when they get there – at the end of Siegfried – is that it is not an Eden-like place of freedom, love and self-expression, but populated by people who are not open to their journey, people who cling religiously to tradition and the status quo. In casting Hagen as a member of the audience, and in finally burning the idols of classical Wagner staging on Siegfried’s funeral pyre, Herheim is giving us another metaphor, equating our reluctance to accept new theatrical concepts with a reluctance to support sociopolitical change in the real world outside the opera house. He does not attempt to provide answers as to how we should specifically change our thinking or actions in order to create a better future: he only asks us to be loving, and open minded. It’s a concept that, like Frank Castorf’s, very much provides an immediate viewing experiencefor the head rather than the heart, but it’s thought-provoking, cleverly constructed, and ultimately, I think it works.
Turning to the musical side of things, I was surprised to read in the programme notes that Donald Runnicles’ favourite recording of the Ring is the Solti, as what we heard from the pit throughout the four evenings seemed, at least to my ears, quite far removed from that (overly) celebrated interpretation. If Solti can be accused of stopping and starting too much, this seemed almost the opposite, with musical lines and transitions sounding so fluent and smooth as to bring Karajan to mind. The relative kid gloves with which Runnicles treated the lower brass also made for a surprisingly “chamber”, even Bayreuthian, sound at times. On occasion, I felt a few more jagged edges would perhaps have lent a greater sense of excitement and urgency to proceedings: for example, the Wälsung twins’ love duet seemed to rather loll along than proceed inexorably, and the Schmiedelied was more lyrical than heroic. But if this were not the most “dramatic” reading one will ever hear, it was nevertheless consistent, thoughtful, and coherent, extremely sympathetic to the singers, and betrayed a keen sense of longer lines. Moreover, a real beauty to the orchestral playing shone throughout, and for the most part just enough oomph was produced when necessary.

Iain Paterson sang all three Wotans, and must be particularly commended for stepping in for an ailing Derek Welton in Die Walküre at only a few hours’ notice. Any lack of preparation for that evening certainly didn’t show – in fact, if anything, I found his portrayal that evening slightly more insightful than the previous one. Overall, his was a dramatically committed, coherent, and vocally dependable performance, even if there were times where a little more tonal variation and power would have been welcome.

Two Ricarda Merbeth performances as Brünnhilde sandwiched one by Elisabeth Teige (also a fine Sieglinde) and there was little to separate them in terms of quality. Both sang with power and beauty, the former providing a defiant, but nuanced final monologue, the latter a captivating stage presence atop the piano for a tender “Ewig war ich...”.

As Siegfried, Clay Hilley was almost tireless. I say almost, as I think there was one high note he left on the page in the last minute of Siegfried, but it really didn’t matter. For the other eight plus hours he was involved, he sang this most difficult of roles as if it were a walk in the park, and with a brilliant, bright, tone that may have made his the most beautiful sounding Siegfried I have heard live. If his acting were not quite at the level of his singing, it was nevertheless more than enough to bring a sense of naive youth to his character, and he is clearly going to be prominent in this sort of repertoire for many years to come.

Albert Pesendorfer excelled in different ways in his two roles. Singing Fasolt with a strong legato line, but Hagen with a much harder attack, he showed at the highest level how one can act with the voice as well as with the body. Throughout both roles, his resonant, rich, powerful voice stood out. Also standing out was Annika Schlicht who was a good Fricka but a sensational Waltraute, her weighty low notes and captivating facial expressions making the scene one of the highlights of the cycle. If Daniel Frank’s Siegmund seemed rather less highly strung than in many other portrayals, then that was doubtless in part a directorial decision. In any case, he sang well, with a lyricism in sync with the conducting style.

Jordan Shanahan did well too, as a full-voiced, characterful Alberich that was, both theatrically and vocally, dark at times, but with more than a hint of mischief befitting the clown make-up he wore throughout. Also appropriately impish was the always excellent Thomas Blondelle, who allied a full tone to a sense of cabaret in a well-judged performance that paid close attention to the text. As Gunther, Thomas Lehman hit all the right notes, in the dramatic as well as musical sense, fussing around the stage wonderfully like he was running a leisure centre, while Tobias Kehrer, playing both Fafner and Hunding, particularly made an impression as the latter, his expressive tone helping to make the character seem rather more complex than one might sometimes think.

The absolute star of the tetralogy though was Ya-Chung Huang as Mime. Simply brilliant. Vocally, he employed the full range of technique; at times rasping, at times sweet, sometimes full and rich of tone, at others more conversational, he delivered a commanding interpretation to rival any of one’s favourites from yesteryear. His physical, energetic acting was just as good, and conveyed a multitude of feelings through gesture and facial expression. My congratulations to him on an exceptional performance.

All in all then, an intellectually demanding production that took me a while to get to grips with, but which has already grown in stature significantly in my mind in the ten days since I saw it. Given the level of detail in the staging, I think it could well be one that really requires a second viewing to get the most out of. But even after a single viewing, and despite some remaining reservations, I think the fact that I am still thinking about the questions of artistic and societal change that Herheim raises means that to a significant extent, the play’s the thing wherein he’s caught the conscience of the Ring.


Sam Goodyear

Sam Goodyear is an opera fan and Wagner enthusiast, originally from Portsmouth but now living in Germany. He read history at Peterhouse, Cambridge, and has at various times worked as a bookie, translator, trader, journalist, and TV researcher. He currently works in socially responsible investment. While very much an amateur, his interest in music has in the past led to him singing on BBC radio, and playing the trumpet in front of the queen. He attends as much Wagner both at home and abroad as time and money will permit, and he has written on Wagner for Classical Music Magazine.


Reviews by Sam Goodyear

Stefan Herheim's production of Der Ring des Nibelungen at Deutsche Oper Berlin (2024)

Roland Schwab: Tristan und Isolde (Bayreuth 2023)

Jay Scheib: Parsifal (Bayreuth Festival, 2023)

Tcherniakov: Das Rheingold, Staatsoper Berlin

Tcherniakov: Die Walküre, Staatsoper Berlin

Tcherniakov: Siegfried, Staatsoper Berlin

Tcherniakov: Götterdämmerung, Staatsoper Berlin

Bayreuth Festival 2017: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Kosky/Jordan)

Bayreuth Festival 2015: Tristan und Isolde