It would be difficult to assemble a cast of greater world-beating talents than the Bayerische Staatsoper has for its Ring in 2018. Jonas Kaufmann, undoubtedly the most popular singer on the opera stage today, takes the role of Siegmund opposite Anja Kampe’s Sieglinde. Nina Stemme, widely regarded as the finest Wagner soprano of our time, sings Brünnhilde opposite the Siegfried of Stefan Vinke and the Wotan of Wolfgang Koch. Kirill Petrenko, who has conducted the Ring at Bayreuth three times in recent years, is currently the Generalmusikdirektor of the Bayerische Staatsoper but scheduled to take over the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 2019.
The production, by Andreas Kriegenburg is notable for its imaginative, often breathtaking, use of the human body to represent the elements, objects, ideas and emotions. Thus the dragon in Siegfried is a swarming mass of blood-red human figures against a blue background, with two athletic extras swinging to and fro to represent a flicking, forked tongue. Theatrical trickery is often used also to comic effect. As the Wagner Journal review of the 2012 production concluded: ‘Kriegenburg’s staging ideas are rarely gratuitous: they develop from and illuminate the characters and their emotions, and thus engage the audience’s sympathies.’
Munich is perhaps the most attractive of Germany’s cities, and has always been a major centre for opera. The Nationaltheater is at the moment enjoying a reputation as one of the finest houses in Europe: ‘La Scala may be grander…, Vienna more stately, the Metropolitan more prestigious… but for all-round excellence in pretty well every department, Munich’s Nationaltheater has the edge, both in matters of creature comforts and sheer dedication to the art’.
Opera apart, Munich is widely considered to be the most agreeable city in Germany in which to live, and rivals Berlin for wealth of art and historic architecture. The seat of the Wittelsbachs, who ruled Bavaria from 1255 until 1918 as Counts, Dukes, Electors and, from 1806, as Kings, Munich was a city which grew up around a court, not one spawned by trade or industry. Consequently, artistically and architecturally it is still one of the best-endowed centres in Europe.
Fly at c. 12.40pm (British Airways) from London Heathrow to Munich. Evening lecture and dinner in the hotel.
The Residenz in the centre of the city was the principal Wittelsbach palace and seat of government; a magnificent sprawl of buildings, courtyards, state apartments and museums of every period from Renaissance to the end of the 19th century. There are fine works of art and sumptuous interiors of the highest importance, especially the Rococo interiors and the Cuvilliés Theatre (subject to confirmation as the theatre can close for rehearsals at short notice). Free afternoon. Nationaltheater, 7.00pm: Das Rheingold: Kirill Petrenko (conductor), Wolfgang Koch (Wotan), Jonas Kaufmann (Siegmund), Anja Kampe (Sieglinde), Stefan Vinke (Siegfried), Nina Stemme (Brünnhilde), Hans-Peter König (Hagen), John Lundgren (Alberich), Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (Mime), Ain Anger (Fafner), Okka von der Damerau (Erda).
On the edge of Munich, Nymphenburg is one of the finest palace complexes of the 17th and 18th centuries, with main palace, park, gardens and pavilions. The delightful Amalienburg represents the apogee of secular Rococo interiors, and the carriage museum has sleighs made for King Ludwig II. Return to central Munich in the early afternoon. The rest of the day is free for independent exploration.
Travel by coach along some of the principal streets and boulevards of the city to see architecture of the 19th and 20th centuries. Disembark in the vicinity of the main art galleries and visit the Alte Pinakothek, one of the world’s greatest collections of Old Masters. Free afternoon. Nationaltheater, 5.00pm: Die Walküre: Kirill Petrenko (conductor), Jonas Kaufmann (Siegmund), Ain Anger (Hunding), Wolfgang Koch (Wotan), Anja Kampe (Sieglinde), Nina Stemme (Brünnhilde), Ekaterina Gubanova (Fricka), Daniela Köhler (Helmwige), Alexandra LoBianco (Gerhilde), Anna Gabler (Ortlinde), Okka von der Damerau (Waltaute), Helena Zubanovich (Siegrune), Jennifer Johnston (Roßweiße), Heike Grötzinger (Grimgerde), Rachael Wilson (Schwertleite).
Herrenchiemsee, Munich. In the countryside southeast of Munich and surrounded by a park, woodland and a great lake, Schloss Herrenchiemsee is a copy of Versailles. Ludwig II’s megalomaniac hymn of homage to the absolutism of Louis XIV, his final folly, brought the Bavarian state to the brink of bankruptcy.
The morning and early afternoon is spent in and around Königsplatz, a noble assembly of Neoclassical museums; visit the Glyptothek, an outstanding collection of Greek and Roman sculpture. The Lenbachhaus has an outstanding collection of German Expressionist paintings. Nationaltheater, 5.00pm: Siegfried: Kirill Petrenko (conductor), Stefan Vinke (Siegfried), Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (Mime), Wolfgang Koch (Der Wanderer), John Lundgren (Alberich), Ain Anger (Fafner), Okka von der Damerau (Erda), Nina Stemme (Brünnhilde).
Free day in Munich; a list of recommendations will be provided. We hope to offer a choice of two optional performances this evening. Full details will be available in Spring 2018.
Regensburg, Munich. Travel by coach to Regensburg, one of Germany’s finest mediaeval cities, with a Gothic cathedral and parliament of the Holy Roman Empire.
In the morning visit the Church of St Peter and the Asamkirche, built and decorated by Egid Quinn Asam. Free afternoon. Nationaltheater, 4.00pm: Götterdammerung: Stefan Vinke (Siegfried), Markus Eiche (Gunther), Hans-Peter König (Hagen), John Lundgren (Alberich) Nina Stemme (Brünnhilde), Anna Gabler (Gutrune), Okka von der Damerau (Waltraute), Elsa Benoit (Woglinde), Rachael Wilson (Wellgunde), Jennifer Johnston (Floßhilde).
Fly at c. 12.40pm (British Airways) from Munich to London Heathrow.
Price, per person.
Two sharing: £4,920 or £4,760 without flights. Single occupancy: £5,580 or £5,420 without flights.
Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus 320); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 2 lunches, 3 dinners and interval canapés at 3 performances with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Tickets (top category) for 4 performances are included costing c. £920.
Hotel Platzl, Munich: a four-star hotel located in the heart of the old city, a 5-minute walk from the opera house. Single rooms throughout are doubles for sole use.
There is unavoidably a lot of walking and standing around in galleries. Fitness is essential. Average distance by coach per day: 33 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.