Janette Griffiths

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

 How Die Walkure can change your life - or mine at least

The Met have just broadcast "Die Walkure" . As the overwhelmingly, sumptuously, orgasmically beautiful 3rd Act ends, here's a little tale of how I found it and it changed my life:

 I wandered into Wagner's Die Walkure at Covent Garden in the early 90s. It was the time-tunnel production with James Morris and Gwyneth Jones. They looked for all the world as though they'd wandered into a dank, dark passage of the Northern Line. But when Wotan started his great Farewell to his daughter and prepared to put her on her rock surrounded by fire (and in that grey production what fabulous fire it was!) I forgot how it looked, forgot that I was tired and that my seat in the amphi was cramped and stuffy, as a great wave of physical ecstasy washed over me.  I was shocked; I didn't know that music could do that. I didn't know what else it was going to do...

Back in the early 90s, I'd written two unpublished novels and was fumbling my way towards a third. Snow came to London in the winter of that Walkure. I donned a Walkman and tramped across Hampstead Heath reliving that moment in the opera house. I was in love - but with a piece of music. I was renting a  room in Belsize Park in  a house full of concert pianists. Years later, one of them, the now great soloist, Jean-Francois Dichamp, would also describe his discovery of Wagner as being like falling in love 'you want everyone to know, for a while you can't talk about anything else.' 

That winter of snow and great music, I searched in vain for a book that would describe that feeling. And then it dawned in me: this was the book that I had to write. And I did. A year later, I delivered "The Singing House" to a publisher. Black Swan brought it out to good reviews and good sales. Then, as books often do, it disappeared onto back shelves and was forgotten. 

I moved onto other writing,  wrote a novel , "The Courtyard in August" set in Paris, then succumbed to the almost Venusberg-esque temptations of travel writing.But I couldn't get over Wagner and Die Walkure. I'd seen a young bass, John Tomlinson, sing Baron Ochs at ENO. When I read that he was to sing Wotan in Bayreuth, I made my ticketless way there.  Throughout the writing of "Singing House" some sort of magic had got me into all the Ring performances at Covent Garden at the last minute. I believed that the same luck would get me into Bayreuth. But Act 1 came and went and I remained outside the Festspielhaus. So did Act 2. I continued to hope. In my opinion Act 3 is the greatest moment so perhaps my luck would kick in. It did. Somebody left and I sneaked in. BUT, I was disappointed in John Tomlinson. The voice is stupendous, the energy amazing but he played a Wotan who was crazed and devoid of dignity. And that  didn't feel right to me.

 Life went on. Fate took me to Vancouver where a Canadian director, Nick Kendall, read "The Singing House" and optioned it. I wrote a script but it was not very good. Nick took the script to Cannes and Berlin - a few people were interested but nobody was buying.

I put the whole project away in a drawer. But Wagner stayed close - in Seattle to be precise where Speight Jenkins' fabulous Seattle Opera put on one of the greatest Rings on the planet. After their 2009 Ring, I pulled out the script, changed the point of view from female to male, did not look at the book once and rewrote in 3 weeks.

In February, I took it to Berlin where a German producer picked it up. Now I wait but what a journey from that evening in the ROH amphitheatre all those years ago. Oh and thanks to the wonders of technology, i can now add that glorious music to an enhanced ebook.

Sat, April 28, 2012 | link

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