There's nothing quite like sitting inches to the side of the stage. You can't see half the set, every orchestral blemish and conductorial grunt is distressingly apparent - and you soon find out who looks good in profile. But it works an inexplicable magic on voices. When you're so close you can almost hear them breathing, every nuance of expression seems magnified. If the singer's good enough, sometimes you can almost forget they're only acting.
I was lucky enough to be perched close to the stage for the first of the Royal Opera's Ring cycles. The disadvantage, as I noted at the time, was the overbearing proximity of the horns and tuba in the specially-extended pit.
For the second round, I had another restricted view seat, but this time higher up and further back. Here, sound reverberates from the curves and cornices of the roof, creating arguably the best acoustic experience in the whole house. The orchestra blends beautifully, the voices ring out, all but the worst deficiencies are disguised in a sort of instant musical Photoshopping. Of course it's the real thing, just as the down and dirty pit-side sound is, but it's the glossed and glamorous version. Pappano's propulsive narrative made hours pass like minutes.
So just about everything sounded better second time round - and the more cheaply-executed special effects even looked better, too.
As the evenings wore on, singers sounded increasingly tired. Bryn Terfel's Wanderer lacked the reckless edge that made his first performance so compelling. Stefan Vinke husbanded his resources throughout - and when he doesn't sing out, he's a far from exciting performer. Susan Bullock sounded if anything weaker in a prime acoustic. But there are really very few weak links in this cast, the only real disappointment being Peter Coleman-Wright's barked and almost pitchless Donner and Gunther.
Sarah Connolly's Fricka remained the most effective overall, but the greatest revelation was Wolfgang Koch's Alberich. The previous week he'd sounded a little undersized. Recovered from the ailment which made him cancel his first Siegfried, his deft and sonorous baritone gave every indication of why Bayreuth have cast him as Wotan for their Ring next year. If Bryn doesn't last the course for whatever reason, the ROH may have an extra option available.