Published On: Fri, Sep 15th, 2023
Entertainment | 4,796 views

A Golden start for the Royal Opera season – Das Rheingold review | Theatre | Entertainment

The Australian opera director Barrie Kosky is impressively creative, sometimes outrageously so. His productions have often aroused controversy but they are unfailingly interesting and full of ideas.

Earlier this year at Glyndebourne, his version of Poulenc’s Dialogues Des Carmélites was stunningly effective in its simplicity and veracity but taking on Wagner’s Ring Cycle is a far more complex challenge.

The total playing time of the four operas in the cycle is around 15 hours and Kosky will be directing all of them over the next few years at the Royal Opera House. To judge by the first, the audience are in for a sustained treat.

After seeing a new operatic production, I ask myself three questions: What was the director trying to do? How well did he succeed? and, perhaps most important of all, Is this what he should have been trying to do anyway? As my five-star rating may suggest, my answers to all these are very positive.

In writing both the music and libretto of the Ring Cycle, Wagner took complete control of composing a 19th century version of an ancient Norse saga, much as Tolkien was to do in the following century.

Das Rheingold is the first and shortest opera, lasting some two-and-a-half hours without an interval, acting as an introduction to the other three, which last some four or five hours each. Kosky’s approach has been to change it subtly into a timeless myth, incorporating some striking modern sensibilities into the magic of an ancient world.

The story has everything: a wicked dwarf, Alberich, who turns his lust for the Rhine maidens into a desire for the magical gold they are guarding, a leader of the Gods, Wotan, who refuses to honour the terms of a contract with the giants who built his palace, a god of mischief, Loge, who comes up with a plan to trick the dwarf, and a cursed ring which brings both power and disaster to its wearer.

Kosky also introduces something that rectifies the only weakness in Wagner’s story. In the original opera, the Earth goddess Erda, creator of all things, appears only at the end to sort out the mess Wotan has got himself into, but in Kosky’s new version, she appears even before the overture, old and naked, making her way laboriously across the stage where she remains present for most of the opera.

Whether one sees this as evoking an ancient creation myth of a power transcending even that of the Gods or a hint towards the far more modern concern about what we are doing to our planet, this is hugely effective. I am generally wary of directors who try to add their own agenda to the plots of operas, but this one is not overdone and really works.

A further gesture towards the timelessness of the story is produced by the way the cast embrace today’s standards in both their characters and costumes.

Loge, brilliantly and energetically played by American tenor Sean Panikkar, prances around in a suit as a very modern mischief-maker, while Wotan (Christopher Maltman) and Alberich (Christopher Purves) seethe ambition and power in a convincingly modern way.

The entire cast are hugely impressive, with Panikkar and the octogenarian Rose Knox-Peebles, who played Erda, deservedly getting most applause at the end, but the greatest triumph of all was the Royal Opera House Orchestra superbly conducted by Antonio Pappano.

From the growling bass notes of the opening to the magnificent celebrations of the building of Valhalla at the end, Wagner’s ambition is fully realised to tell the story as much through music as action.

With powerful, seamless music from start to finish, never allowing the audience to interrupt the action with applause, the effect is magnificently gripping. Most unusually, Pappano and the entire orchestra deservedly appeared on the stage at the end to receive the audience’s heartfelt applause.

Tickets: or 020 7304 4000 (various dates until 29 September) Das Rheingold will be shown from the ROH in cinemas on 20 September. For details, see

Source link