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This large and weighty tome could be described as the ultimate in vanity publishing, as the Ring in question is the Royal Opera House’s own production, directed by Keith Warner, and conducted by Antonio Pappano, first staged in the 2007/8 season and repeated this autumn for four cycles. But the real stars of this book are photographer Clive Barda and set designer Stefanos Lazaridis: the latter provided for the former the kind of images most photographers can only dream of. The results, 350 full-colour photographs spread over 288 pages, give a stunning insider’s view of the production, the backstage work involved, and informal shots of rehearsals. One disadvantage of this close-up record is that anyone coming to the book with little knowledge of Wagner’s work would get the impression that it is about middle-aged, overweight and, with few exceptions, not very attractive characters, wearing for the most part unflattering, not to say ragged, costumes, but there you go.

Kahn has trawled and landed all the big fi sh involved for interviews and/or original contributions: Tony Hall, chief executive of the ROH, has provided a preface, and Stephen Hawking, no less, a foreword, and director Keith Warner offers a homage to Stefanos Lazaridis, who died in 2010.

Kahn’s introduction gives an informative overview not only of those involved in this production, but of the creation of the work itself. This is followed by in-depth interviews with Antonio Pappano, Keith Warner, Stefanos Lazaridis, and Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costume designer). There follow interviews with the cast, divided into the four sections of the Ring, a cast that includes Bryn Terfel, Plácido Domingo, Waltraud Meier, John Tomlinson and Rosalind Plowright among others. The last 100 pages are devoted to really stunning photographs, nearly all full-page.

This is the softback edition of a book that first appeared after the initial run of the Ring and therefore contains some who are no longer with us, such as Lazaridis and Philip Langridge (Loge in that first production). At £35 it is still a hefty price, but more than worth it as a valuable record.

DELLA COULING Read the full review on Agora Classica

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