Der Ring des Nibelungen: Das Rheingold

Reviewer's Rating

A run-down and faded 1950s motel on America’s famed Route 66, aptly named ‘Golden’, provides an authentic setting for Frank Castorf’s stylish and witty production of Das Rhinegold, first seen in 2013 as part of the complete Ring cycle to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Wagner’s birth.

And the boss of the ‘Golden’ is none other than Wotan (authoritatively sung by Scottish bass-baritone, Iain Paterson) who comes over as a Mafia-type character seen in the early stages of the opera enjoying a ‘threesome’ with his wife Fricka (Sarah Connolly) and sister-in-law Freia (Caroline Wenborne).

Gangland B-movie world is rife in this all-action production where gangsters and their molls replaced Nordic Gods and so forth. Markus Eiche as Donner fits his role perfectly looking shady to the core wearing a Stetson and armed with a Colt 49 while the giants Fafner and Fasolt (Günther Groissböck and Karl-Heinz Lehner) are portrayed as ‘grease-monkeys’ kitted out in true Detroit fashion with blue dungarees.

A deconstructionist in every sense of the word, Castorf brazenly shifts the scenario from its traditional romantic Rhineland setting to the rough-and-tough world of oil prospecting, setting the scenes in the USA, Germany and the Soviet Union. Therefore, ‘black gold’ becomes the treasured Nibelung hoard.

Castorf captures in minute detail, too, the very essence of the free-and-easy decade of the 1950s when oil supplies were limitless to Americans cruising aimlessly around in their gas-guzzling cadillacs as if there was no tomorrow. But tomorrow always comes as the Gods holed up in Valhalla find out to their almighty cost.

A Mercedes-Benz, chrome-trimmed, black convertible provides a most distinctive stage prop and the favoured transport of the Rhinemaidens turned out as brightly-dressed curvaceous young blondes tantalising poor old Alberich to bursting-point with their seductive charms. The famed trio – Alexandra Steiner (Woglinde), Stephanie Houtzeel (Wellgunde) and Wiebke Lehmkuhl (Flosshilde) – proved an excellent choice.

All of the sets, ingeniously designed by Serbian-born artist, Aleksandar Denić, are cleverly constructed on a massive revolving stage built on a combination of levels while Adriana Braga Peretzki’s strikingly-colourful costumes fitted their characters’ personalities to a tee. For instance, when Erda (Nadine Weissmann) arrives on the scene warning Wotan of impending doom and gloom she makes quite an entrance glamorously dressed in a striking gold-lamé, tight-fitting dress, suitably adorned by a white mink coat.

Castorf adds a nice quirky touch to the underground city of Nibelheim, too, by putting it on wheels. After all, America’s a car-driven society, so what better way to represent Nibelheim than by a silver-plated, Air Stream, double-wheeled mobile trailer which leisurely rode America’s iconic Route 66.

Rainer Casper completed a fine creative team flooding the stage with an array of rainbow-coloured lighting while Andreas Deinert and Jens Crull produced some interesting video work. One video sequence that captured the imagination so well is the scene in which Alberich boasts about the powers of the Tarnhelm. As he morphs himself into a giant snake, then a croaking toad, these amphibious creatures are immediately caught on camera and instantly beamed close-up on screen.

Maestro Janowski – one of the great exponents of the music of the German tradition – gives a formidable reading of Wagner’s score energising his charges in the pit to some exciting playing especially in the Gods’ Entrance into Valhalla.