Das Rheingold at the Royal Opera House
Rheingold is the first of four operas that constitute Wagner’s der Ring Des Nibelungen and was premiered in Munich in 1869. Wagner wrote the Ring librettos in reverse order, with Rheingold last but the first to be set to music. The premiere of the whole Ring Cycle was at the Bayreuth in 1876.
As the house went dark and with no lights other than the conductor with an illuminated baton, the first note of Wagner’s mystical der Ring Des Nibelungen, a haunting E-flat, rang out to signal the birth of this Cycle. And thus, the Royal Opera House’s music director and conductor Sir Antonio Pappano heralded the commencement of 16 hours of complete operatic mastery.
Pappano’s Rheingold is more Italianate than German in origin. His tones are more soft and velvety than rough, hard and lumpy which is perhaps more common, particularly in German houses. But then he has a wonderful orchestra under his control and this is not the first time he has conducted to Keith Warner’s production, first seen nearly 15 years ago.
Keith Warner’s production has matured well and has evolved with a surfeit of ideas new and old. These are mixed into the traditional values of the sets – designed Stefanos Lazaridis – which centre around the elevation of the stage in Scene 3 as we enter Nibelheim, which is Alberich’s powerbase with his brother Mime.
The lyrical Wotan at the centre of this opera is sung by the Swedish baritone John Lundgren. Whilst he adds considerably to the dramatic intensity of his role, he does not possess the vocal heft that previous Wotans – namely John Tomlinson and Bryn Terfel – possessed. His wife is the wonderfully emotional Sarah Connolly, and her sister Freia is the superbly talented Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen – surely Brunnhilde in-waiting – whose prize-winning career is catapulting her to great heights.
But the evening starts with three wonderful fleshy Rhinemaidens, Lauren Fagan, Christina Bock and Angela Simkin, who tease the Alberich of the cranky Johannes Martin Kränzle mercilessly. He meets his match, however, in the magical performance of the Loge of the brilliant Alan Oke, who outwits not only the Mime of the solid Gerhard Siegel, but also the giants of Günther Groissböck and Brindley Sherratt, who both performed strongly. The Erda of Wiebke Lehmkuhl was a revelation.
This was not a total final powerhouse performance, but a very solid start to what Wagner described as his “preliminary evening”.