Stage Review: Das Rheingold (Royal Opera House)

Gerhard Siegel as Mime in the Royal Opera House’s 2004 revival of Keith Warner’s production. Photograph: Clive Barda. Courtesy of the Royal Opera House.

So, a little note about this. I was originally asked to write this review to launch a new opera reviews blog. However, the blog is having a little difficulty in getting itself off the ground, so I’ve been given permission to post it here instead, despite it being rather belated. As it seems a shame to waste it, here it is!

Rating: ***

For all the naked Rhinedaughters and skinless abominations that are thrown at Das Rheingold, Keith Warner’s acclaimed production still fails to lift the opera beyond being the weakest and most unimpressive of the cycle. Yet with as strong a cast as the Royal Opera House has put behind the production, there are still moments that thrill making this a reasonable evening, if not wholly satisfying.

Though the set, lighting, and video/projection work are visually arresting, one of the issues with the production is that Warner brings far too cluttered a direction. Dormant singers will often fidget and pace in the background, distracting from an opera that is already struggling to hold your attention. Testament to this is just how well the times where the action decides to be static work, such as Wotan’s goading of the defeated Alberich, and Erda’s doom-mongering prophecy. So expertly delivered by the cast and free from diversion are these are what makes them wow, rendering the ambitious staging redundant.

What really doesn’t chime are the production’s attempts at overt horror. Alberich’s transformation into a fearsome dragon, despite grotesque and gothic, was executed with laughable and clunky puppetry, and Fasolt’s murder was like a badly cooked steak – overdone and with nowhere near enough blood to achieve the shock factor that the production is plumping for.

Yet Antonio Pappano conducts with a measured lightness only making the orchestra noticed only when needed, leaving the cast to make the most of their parts. Indeed they are the production’s saviours. Loge is played delightfully cynical, sly, and sarcastically by Stig Andersen, and Maria Radner purrs and spits her aria as Erda to spine tingling effect in a near show stopping cameo. As for Bryn Terfel, it’s only when Wotan casts off the shackles of being the demagogue’s sidekick that he turns to dominating the stage with an unstoppable power and stunning nuance to Wotan’s complex pathos.

Ultimately it’s an overburdened production of a fair opera with only its singers stopping it from being dreary. Given the performances here it sets the scene for what should be a much more enjoyable continuation of the cycle. Undoubtedly Terfel will yet again make his mark in one of opera’s most coveted baritone roles, but accompanied by a supporting cast that are just as adept as the superstar himself.

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