We are all hoping English National Opera can forget their troubles after a stormy few months. With their second outing of Wagner’s Ring Cycle in the wrong order, their Rhinegold can only be a testament to moving on.
Though this opener from the cycle is intimidating nearly three hours with no rest bite, I assure you this is the must-see opera of the season. You can have fun with Rhinegold and director Richard Jones has done just this. Some of his more eccentric ideas flourish here, in what is a more accessible and amusing Wagner outing. Stewart Laing’s production sees puppetry, heaps of colour and some stage effects which this critic simply will not spoil. I truly found Richard’s staging to be quite delightful, I’m thinking back to some of his wonderful work with the Welsh National Opera and other thrills.
The voices were exceptional. Not only were we treated to some of the finest UK singers in the opera world, emerging talent also gleamed. The three Rhinemaidens (Eleanor Dennis, Idunnu Münch and Katie Stevenson) get to muck about in jazzercise gear, all the while mocking Alberich, an outrageously fun, briefly wigged Leigh Melrose. It is Alberich who robs the Rhinegold from the river, leading to the staggering events of the opera and then the full, exhausting cycle.
John Relyea lives up to the part of Wotan, chief-god with a head-turning voice. Madeline Shaw is exuberant as his wife Fricka, sporting a slick yellow dress and uncompromising haircut. Sibling gods Freia, Froh and Donner from Katie Lowe, Julian Hubbard and Blake Denson, are all great in the complex story, voices abound and costumes are equally as ludicrous.
A real discovery was John Findon as Mime, Alberich’s brother who is only heard singing in the third scene. He excelled in the role, the abuse his brother gives him proving through purple bruises upon his side. The giants Fasolt and Fafner are as standard from Simon Bailey and James Creswell, the former governing a much more sympathetic turn in their abduction of Freia. Christine Rice gives a really special Erda, seen in pink pyjamas alongside her Brownie uniformed daughters, the Norns, who we won’t hear sing for some over eight hours of music later in the cycle.
I’m still thinking if Frederick Ballentine had the right voice as demi-god Loge, though I did find him sassy, blunt and impish in equal measure. The lower boxes were filled with harps and percussion, the full orchestra in the pit also pummelling us with happiness and more touching moments than you’d think for Wagner. Conductor Martyn Brabbins kept this mighty mountain along, all through sharing this fabulous breadth of the score with the players.
I am simply stunned by the efforts here in this tale of greed, love and fate. An absolute joy!
It runs till 10 April.
Review: James Ellis Photo: Marc Brenner