Das Rheingold at the Royal Opera House
A production of Ring Cycle will always carry some notoriety, and what with Wagner’s insistence there be no breaks, the maddening complexity of the music and the overlapping threads of narrative & symbolism, daring musical composition and Norse mythology, there’s a lot to try and get right. This revival of the classical Wagnerian opera, directed by Keith Warner, clears up some of the confusion but in places adds a dash of its own.
The first in the set, Das Rheingold follows the tribulations of the disreputable Dwarf Alberich, who curses love and forges an all-powerful ring, and the war god Wotan, whose sister-in-law Freia is being held ransom by the giants who built his castle. The charming Bryn Terfel plays the morally conflicted Wotan, shiningly developing the deep insecurities of the war god. Impressive also is Loge, who in turn is jester and seer, portrayed fittingly by Stig Andersen. Special merit goes to Sarah Connolly, the forlorn wife of Wotan, Fricka – standing to lose both husband and sister, played with stricken but austere emotion. Lastly, the often critically neglected nymphs were brilliant, even seductive, in their loss of the Rhinegold and pleas for its return.
While technique of the singers cannot be called into question – the set design falters in places. The black leather lounge of the Gods is an absolutely confusing setting, and the placing of Alberich’s lair in a laboratory with vile creatures waltzing about the place seems dated and not so nefarious as perhaps was the object. Meanwhile, Alberich’s projection as a corrupt evildoer in the appearance of his transformation – the necrotic dragon – was spot on, evidently in places the daring symbolism pays off.
A final mention must also go to the impeccable orchestra. The audience twists, turns, is energised and laid low as conductor Antonia Pappano brings the music to each new evolution. It is a difficult listen – Wagner is merciless, and three hours can be punishing, albeit worth it for pleasure of the experience.
There are defiantly some strong points in this particular production, and there will be those that approve of the somewhat avant-garde interpretation. Productions of The Ring will always strive for new themes and motifs to explore, but perhaps vivisection and strobe lighting are a step in the wrong direction. That said, there cannot be any regrets in seeing Das Rheingold, even to simply close your eyes and enjoy the spirit of the late, great composer.