Singers on Singing: Sir John Tomlinson discusses Wotan

Part of the Singers on Singing: Signature Roles series


For many people, Sir John Tomlinson has been the most vocally and theatrically impressive Wotan in Wagner’s Ring Cycle since the days of the legendary Hans Hotter in the middle of the last century. He sang the role every year from 1988 to 1992 in the Bayreuth Festival production directed by Harry Kupfer and conducted by Daniel Barenboim, and then, in a remarkably bold move, Bayreuth cast him as Wotan again in their subsequent production by Alfred Kirchner conducted by James Levine. Meanwhile, during the same period of the early 1990s he was Wotan in the Berlin Staatsoper’s Ring Cycle and the daringly experimental production by Richard Jones at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. Unlike the bass-baritone Hans Hotter, though, Sir John is a bass, but during the course of his career before singing Wotan he extended his upper range with unusual success, and approaching Wotan as a bass with an enhanced tessitura is one of the topics he discusses in his in-depth and wide-ranging exploration of the role and Wagner’s concept of the Ring Cycle in this feature that has been made exclusively for the Hampsong Foundation.

We are profoundly grateful to Warner Classics for generously permitting us to use some extracts from their 1989 recording of the Bayreuth Festival production conducted by Daniel Barenboim as musical illustrations in this feature. Details of the entire CD set and also the complete sets of DVDs and Blu–Ray discs filmed during the production two years later in 1991 can be found below.

-Jon Tolansky

The feature is divided into three parts:

Part One: the background to Sir John’s experience singing Wotan, which is followed by an analysis of the role of Wotan within the perspective of Wagner’s entire Ring Cycle concept. In the music extracts the role of Wotan is sung by Sir John Tomlinson, Siegfried is performed by Siegfried Jerusalem, and singing Erda is Birgitta Svenden, with the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim.

Part Two: Stylistic and technical elements of singing Wotan, and Wagner’s vocal exigencies. Once again, in the music extract the role of Wotan is sung by Sir John Tomlinson, with the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim.

Part Three: Performing in different productions of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which is followed by a brief look at the role of Hagen.

Three places need explanation here:

i) At 10’56”: when the interviewer intersperses “which he is responsible for”, he is
referring to the dilemma Wotan has made for himself, and ultimately the fate of the gods,
by commissioning the building of Valhalla without the requisite funds to pay its builders,
the giants Fasolt and Fafner.

ii) At 24’40”: when Sir John cites “the great monologue”, he is referring to Wotan’s
long monologue in Act Two, Scene Two of Die Walküre when he reveals his mistakes and
past foibles to Brünnhilde.

iii) At 43’22”: Sir John is referring here to the conductor Sir Reginald Goodall, who was
greatly admired by international singers as a scholarly Wagner specialist and coach.

Included in


Singers on Singing: Signature Roles

Part of

Singers on Singing: Great Artists in Conversation