Das Rheingold

Reviewer's Rating

The new Longborough Opera Festival production of Das Rheingold approximates, within the “given” of its setting and budget, just about everything that Wagner declared he wished for in his philosophizing about the gesamtkunstwerk. After a slightly slow start with the Rhinemaidens and a sonorous, scary, dramatically tart Alberich, it grows into the creation of a perfect fit of all the theatrical arts. The musical aspect is exemplary throughout. Conductor Anthony Negus has a very secure sense of the arch of the music in this work and controls his forces with a strong feeling for how the various scenes and moments relate to each other in terms of tempi, dynamics and sensitive responsiveness to the orchestral and vocal developments throughout the evening. His command of detail never slackens even while he maintains a strong grasp on the impact of the whole. All the singers work together beautifully as a musical ensemble. But more than that, because of the intimacy of the theatre, one is able to appreciate every nuance of their facial expressions and the varied aspects of their characters. The spectacle is extremely intelligently presented. Set designer Rhiannon Newman Brown, Costume Designer Emma Ryott, Video Designer Tim Baxter and Lighting Designer Charlie Morgan have worked together to create a consistent, attractive and viable world for the gods, dwarfs and giants to inhabit. Director Amy Lane has clearly interpreted this important work and responded to its needs, rather than imposing her own fixations upon it. A fine example is the arrival of the giants wheeled in on platforms that tower above the others. Another is the magical sudden appearance of Erda at the end of the opera. With an intelligent use of video projections and without being overly literal in staging Wagner’s demands, the sense of an epic retelling of Wagner’s approach to a reworked mythology is conveyed through a kind of Brechtian explicitness and simplicity that works on the imagination of the spectators. The audience was rapt the night that I attended, completely enthralled throughout.

Longborough is building an entirely new “Ring” over the next few summers, and this inaugural performance suggests it will be one of the most musically satisfying and dramatically astute interpretations of Wagner’s great cycles. The interpretation of Amy Lane puts the conflict between the god, Wotan, played by Darren Jeffery,and the Lord of the Nibelungs, Alberich (Mark Stone) at the core of the whole structure, especially clarified by their confrontations in the third and fourth scenes. Their acting and interpretation as character were as strong as their splendid vocal contributions. This does not mean that Lane ignores the marital thread or the “family in conflict” theme or any of the political elements of the tale. This is a production that can refer to 21st century realities as much as it does to the realities of Wagner’s time. The wresting of the ring of power from Alberich by Wotan is one of the definitive moments in this staging. Loge is engagingly played and brilliantly sung with high camp humour and sharpness by Mark le Broca. I was also impressed by the giants, Simon Wilding as an already potent Fafner and Pauls Putnins as Fasolt. Fasolt had some particularly poignant moments. The Rhinemaidens sang beautifully; and Fricka (Madeleine Shaw) and Freia (Marie Arnet) made real sense as characters. I was also very impressed by Mae Heydorn’s Erda. Indeed, there is not a weak link in the musical or dramatic presentation. I attended with a friend who had never seen the opera before and had been told in advance that it would be long and tiresome. At the end she declared that it had captured her attention so thoroughly that it had felt like a much shorter evening; and that if she could, she would have had it go on even longer. She is already planning to attend next summer for Die Walküre!