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Das Rheingold review at Arcola Theatre, London – ‘first-class singing’

Seth Carico, Philip Sheffield and Paul Carey Jones in Das Rheingold. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli

Wagner’s panoramic tale of struggles between gods and monsters is usually played out on a wide stage with a massive orchestra and huge operatic voices.

It is a very different experience to be cocooned in a small black-box auditorium with these same magnificent voices, a cut-down chamber orchestra and a truncated version of the story, in a version created by Graham Vick and Jonathan Dove for City of Birmingham Touring Opera.

Musically it works well – you can hear the grain and the power of the voices from mere feet away and the cast of this Grimeborn production is definitely worth hearing. Paul Carey Jones’ ringing, vital Wotan has the most to do, but Seth Carico impresses as an unusually attractive Alberich, and in the smaller roles, Dingle Yandell stands out as the giant Fafner, and Gareth Brynmor John has a brief moment of glory as Donner, the god of thunder.

In this clumsy staging constructed of empty cardboard boxes, glamour comes from the beautiful Rhine maidens – Kiandra Howarth, Angharad Lyddon and Marianne Vidal – blending their voices in a deliciously sensuous scene. Eerie blue and red lighting provide atmosphere, though the physical battles between characters are cautiously handled in this confined space.

The Orpheus Sinfonia under music director Peter Selwyn makes the most of the clever reduction, highlighting exposed lines that are usually lost in a wall of sound. The chief virtue of this chamber version is that it gives an opportunity for younger and lighter voices to sing plum Wagner roles in a small venue.

Wagner on the fringe: How London’s smallest stages are hosting opera’s largest works

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Verdict
First-class singing shines despite the clumsy production in a stripped-back version of Wagner
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