(Judi Dench as Titania during the filming of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" by Peter Hall in 1968)
No, I'm not going to write about his Shakespeare productions. I'm going to write about his take on Wagner's Ring Cycle, with only some en passant comments about Shakespeare. With Peter Hall there was none of this "Macbeth" set in a bus shelter or "King Lear" set in McDonalds, or what have you. Contrary to much received luvvie "wisdom" I think it takes more understanding and scholarship to play a classical text "straight" than it does to pointlessly "update" it. An intelligent audience can draw its own conclusions. "Henry V" doesn't have to be played in modern day military camouflage to make the connection between 15th century and 21st century jingoism, as per Iraq war or whatever. I understand that, for its admirers, the greatness of Hall's Ring Cycle lay in its fidelity to the classical style of Wagner himself, and his eschewal of the 'concept' style of interpretation that you had with the previous Boulez Cycle from 1976 and that you were to have with productions after the Hall version closed. As I recall, Hall argued that the Ring was, first and foremost, a mythological narrative, a view that conformed exactly to Wagner's own arguments about the nature of opera and drama. The mythological style is bound up with the universality of theme and characterisation that Wagner associated with Greek tragedy. From what I have read about his Ring Cycle, Hall must have studied Wagner's writings, because, by all accounts, he had a very clear understanding of Wagner's intentions. What would I not give now to have been able to be in Bayreuth to see the Hall Ring in the 80s.