First seen in 2004, Das Rheingold, the first instalment of Keith Warner’s production of Wagner’s Ring, is back as the prelude to the first of four Ring cycles.
Wagner’s four-evening epic is the biggest challenge opera companies regularly face, and while Warner’s visualisation has enjoyed a mixed reception over the years there is no doubting either his intellectual command of the complex material nor his savvy stagecraft: in some ways the show looks both simplified and sharpened up in what will apparently be its final outing.
Even the magical effects – Alberich turning into an enormous dragon and then into a tiny toad – seem much more effective than in previous editions.
A number of the cast – a consistently strong team – are making their company debuts in this production, notably Swedish baritone John Lundgren as a lyrical Wotan, his lower register a shade attenuated towards the end of the show but an impressive assumption nevertheless; rising Norwegian soprano star Lise Davidsen’s clear-toned Freia; and Wiebke Lehmkuhl’s lavishly voiced Erda.
Johannes Martin Kranzle’s expertly crafted Alberich, Sarah Connolly’s ample-toned Fricka and Alan Oke’s vivid Loge are equally striking.
Strong participation in secondary roles, too, with Brindley Sherratt’s dark-souled Fafner, founded on a rich depth of tone, matched perfectly by Gunther Groissbock’s more humane Fasolt. Gerhard Siegel’s Mime steals scenes with his less-is-more physical approach, and there’s a fine trio of Rhinedaughters.
Antonio Pappano has developed into a Wagner conductor of easy confidence and structural mastery. Once again, his approach is lyrical, though there’s no shortage of weight or drama where necessary, while the orchestra is on fluent form, the music clearly now in their blood.
The whole evening possesses a musical and dramatic momentum that makes its single span of two and a half hours fly by.