Das Rheingold, Royal Opera House: Review round-up

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday, 30 September 2012 | 1:08:00 am

So, Britain's opera reviewers have returned from the best free seats in the house. Well, not quite, those free tickets were reserved for certain members of the present cabinet - but you know what I mean. Actually, forget that also, having sat in a number of the ROH boxes over the years (sorry, you must forgive a now admittedly embarrassing capitalist youth - personally I blame the 80's and Duran Duran videos) like most boxes (for those lucky enough to have not experienced)  they have you creaking your neck and banging your knees off of the front if you try to see anything). Anyway,  upon returning - or while on the Tube on the way home - they have extracted their Ipads and written their thoughts. Of course, as always, they often seem to have been at different performances - but such is the unreliability of human neurophysiology

Production

One assumes whether you found it stimulating depends on how you respond to some poor soul, who has has reached the apex of their career, being made to dress up like an escaped "mad scientist" from a bad B Movie - while  simulating sex with a high-street dummy (No, no! Not members of the the Cabinet - I mean Keith Warner's production.).

So, first to Rupert Christiansen at the Guardian (RC - G): does that do anything for you Christian? 

"Third time round, I am finding Keith Warner’s production of the Ring no more intellectually illuminating, dramatically impressive or visually beguiling than I did when I first saw it. "

Seems not, anything else?

"Fatally, it lacks any clarity of interpretation or purpose: what Warner presents is neither a romantic legendary saga, nor an archetypal tragedy of hubris and catastrophe nor a Shavian critique of modern civilization"

Instead the staging tries to have it all ways, stuffing the ragbag with an assortment of images and symbols, in costuming that spans several eras and idioms. The effect is not so much suggestively eclectic as downright chaotic"

Ok, anyone else? Michael Church at the Independent (MC - I)? Did it "float your boat"?

Eight years after its unveiling, Keith Warner’s ‘Ring’ is back, and though his ‘Rheingold’ has been streamlined, the balance between symbolism and naturalism remains awkward (we’re not meant to laugh when Alberich turns into a monster, but we do).

Oh dear.

"And the opening scene still doesn't work: it has no primeval suggestiveness, and there’s a crude disjunction between the gracefully undulating helix-spiral backdrop and the tiresome St Trinians-type taunting of Alberich by the naked Rhinedaughters"

We seem to be acquiring movie references as we go along here - one hope it doesn't turn into a theme. Richard Fairmen at the FT (RF - FT)?

It is probably fortunate that Keith Warner’s production for the Royal Opera preceded the financial world’s own Götterdämmerung. Assembled between 2004 and 2006, it offers a rather muddle-headed take on the big picture, though Das Rheingold starts out promisingly enough, pitting the aristocratic, 19th-century ruling class of the gods against warring clans of Victorian industrialists and evil-minded scientists."

Will you lot stop it with the B-Movie film references - I wish I hadn't started it now. Barry Millington at the London Evening Standard (BM - LES). One can always rely on you to take things seriously - can't we?

Too often revivals fail to reignite the spark of the original. Happily, Warner has returned to direct a partly new cast himself. The basic conception is the same but every line of text has been rethought. 


The Rhinemaidens’ teasing of Alberich seems crueller than ever. Alberich’s grisly eugenic experiments in Nibelheim shock anew.

This infinitely resourceful production — a truly creative collaboration between singers and director — strikes gold in more than one way

I see, no film reference but you do sneak in an 80's music reference. It seems I am being haunted by that miss-spent youth noted earlier - or is it just guilt?

Conductor and orchestra

Das Rheingold - a dry, unyielding score at the best of times - did not quite catch fire musically either, despite Antonio Pappano’s astutely judged conducting. RC - G)

"...dry, unyielding score..."? Really? The variances of human neurophysiology at play again it would seem.

Antonio Pappano and his orchestra are on top form (MC-I)

Antonio Pappano’s musical direction lives very much in the here-and-now. There is little of the mythic quality of some Wagnerians to his conducting, or their achingly expansive speeds, and he keeps the music on a keen, forward trajectory that should ensure this cycle never loses its impetus... RF-FT).

Ok, good stuff. Now what about noted Wagnerian scholar Barry M (BM - LES) Barry? Barry? Oh well, maybe he forgot?

Cast:

Bryn Terfel made a grippingly restless, devious charmer of a Wotan (one thought of Orson Welles and Citizen Kane) (Look, what did I just say about enough with the film references? TW) with a worthy adversary in Wolfgang Koch’s subtly psychopathic Alberich. Sarah Connolly sang her first Fricka with eloquent legato, and Iain Paterson’s sturdy Fasolt and Gerhard Siegel’s snivelling Mime were also outstanding (RC -G)


Wolfgang Koch’s Alberich is a resonant presence, maybe too debonair for the demands of his gnome-like character, but as a counterweight to Bryn Terfel’s Wotan.  Terfel’s singing rightly governs the pace of events. When he declares "I must have the ring", the whole world seems to pause and take account of this fateful realisation, and a similar effect occurs when he tells Alberich - whom he has stripped of all his possessions - that he must yield up that last treasure too. Erda’s prophetic emergence from the earth - is powered by Maria Radner’s compelling sound; Stig Andersen’s Loge and Gerhard Siegel’s Mime are vivid creations. (MC-I)

(The) Wotan of Bryn Terfel, who increasingly feels like the raison d’etre of the entire enterprise. Gloriously sung, imposingly played as the patrician leader of a dying breed, Terfel’s Wotan is a match for any, past or present. His ability to sing quietly and look intimately into his character’s heart provides a depth of understanding that is generally missing from what is going on around him. 

The rest of the cast put musical qualities first. There is little of the old-style Wagnerian shouting, barking or whining, though with some loss of character along the way. Wolfgang Koch’s businesslike Alberich and his sidekick, the nerdy Mime of Gerhard Siegel, sing solidly. Sarah Connolly makes a dignified Fricka and, among those who will not appear again later, Stig Andersen was a somewhat muted Loge, Ann Petersen a nicely open-hearted Freia, and Iain Paterson sang strongly as the more human of the giants, Fasolt. (RF - FT)

Bryn Terfel is back as Wotan, running the gamut of megalomania, surliness and tenderness. His consort, Fricka, is newly cast: Sarah Connolly gives notice of a fine assumption to come with her natural sense of line. Stig Andersen cannot compete with the agility of the late Philip Langridge as Loge but plays him as a portly, greasy butler. Gerhard Siegel’s gift for comic acting is once again exploited to fine effect as Mime. Freia’s loss of innocence is painfully depicted by Ann Petersen. (BM - LES

Full reviews can be read - and is recommended - by following the links below. Next up: Walkure.


ROH Rheingold - 2006

Full Reviews: