The Voice | Singing in the Ring | High Romantic | Opera
When Wagner broached the Ring in earnest in 1848, it was as a single work, a three-act ‘grand heroic opera’ that he planned to stage with singers familiar to him from the Dresden Court Opera. But as the work continued to grow, so its demands increased, not least in terms of the stamina required to sustain such dramatically challenging roles over four consecutive evenings. Wagner characteristically made the problem worse by falling out with a number of singers who might otherwise have created the cycle’s principal roles, adding to its reputation for ruining singers’ voices. (Nor was its reputation helped when three of the singers involved in the 1876 production inconsiderately died insane.) Its difficulties have been compounded since Wagner’s death by the inexorable rise in pitch, so that Wagner’s top C is now more than a semitone higher; by the increased size of opera houses, forcing singers to use a vibrato that Wagner himself intended to be employed only for expressive effect on individual phrases; and by the desire on the part of conductors to impose their own personality on the score – ironically a development to which Wagner himself contributed. Wagnerian singers are regarded by many as a race apart.
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