Scene from Wagner’s opera cycle The Ring of the Nibelungs, 1973

Scene from Wagner’s opera cycle The Ring of the Nibelungs, 1973

Scene from Wagner’s opera cycle The Ring of the Nibelungs
London Coliseum
1973
Colour photograph

This stunning sci-fi setting for Wagner’s opera cycle The Ring of the Nibelungs was designed by Ralph Koltai for Sadler’s Wells Opera. The four opera cycle was produced over several years, but in 1973 it was standing room only when the company performed the complete cycle in English. Koltai’s sets, all gleaming rods and metallic spheres, with costumes incorporating perspex, and Glen Byam Shaw’s production, created a timeless world in which Wagner’s figures moved with unusual humanity. It reflected both the 1960s and the Apollo moon landing, as though Tolkien met Star Wars. The diagonal bridge on which Wotan stands was nicknamed the launching pad, although it did remind one critic of an aluminium pick-a-stick. By 1973, Norman Bailey was already acclaimed for his portrayals of Wagnerian heroes, but his Wotan earned him a place among the greatest interpreters of Wagner in  the 20th century. Yet he sometimes yearned to be a stage actor. ‘Opera is like acting in slow motion. I sometimes long to free myself from the shackles of the music.’