The Rhinegold at English National Opera and the auditorium is buzzing with high-energy. Not a spare seat in view. Wagner may be one of opera’s most controversial figures but interest in his music dramas shows no sign of abating. And for good reason, there is much to admire in his musical theatre. Wagner revolutionised opera, created masterpieces of high drama and certainly his themes of the corrupting influence of money and power still chime with modern audiences today.
The opera marks the first drama of the Ring Cycle and is a tale in which Wagner transposed his criticism of German society to a legendary Norse world of deities, subterranean creatures (Nibelungs), giants and Rhinedaughters.
Right from Wagner’s Prelude to Rhinegold, in which the ENO orchestra musically transported us from the quiet of the river bed, to the water’s surface, where the Rhinedaughters frolicked, I was enraptured as the horns, cellos then woodwind melded into rapturous waves.
The Rhinegold was buoyed by a terrific cast. Leigh Melrose as Alberich was a phenomenal character actor. The energy of the auditorium hiked noticeably when he appeared in Scene 3 (having stolen the gold in Scene 1 from the Rhinedaughters). By then, the stage had morphed into an underground cavern lit by gold ingots, where terrified Nibelung smithies kept their heads down as they beat the gold into ingots. Melrose was mesmerising as the evil boss, his bald head bobbing angrily, his high energy moves around the cave, balletic. Alberich’s brother Mime also impressed as the abused brother, whose affecting tenor made his a moving performance.
John Relyea produced a commanding bass-baritone as Wotan. Frederick Ballentine, as his diplomat, Loge, also put in a spirited performance – almost Shakespearean. The two Giants, never failed to make me smile, thanks to Wagner’s lolloping pantomimic motif of timpani and brass every time they stepped upon the stage.
This was a male-heavy show, the big female vocal moments were noticeably lacking. Rhinegold was not The Valkyrie I had loved at ENO in the winter of 2021. There was no feisty women warriors like Brünnhilde, no Ride of the Valkyries. The Rhinegold is an opera centred around the male voice aside a marvellous entry by goddess Erda, sung by the wonderful Christine Rice whose descent upon Wotan dissuades him from holding onto the cursed ring.
Wagner leaves us little room to dream in this opera – the gleaming row of harps I saw at ENO were used sparingly.
This was however a thoroughly compelling production of Rhinegold with a strong cast and clever staging.
Remaining performances : Sunday 26th February 15.00, Wednesday 1st March 19.30, Saturday 4th March 18.30, Wednesday 8th March 19.30 (signed performance) and Friday 10th March 19.30
One Comment Add yours
Went on opening night and was equally impressed. May the Gods in Walhalla spare the ENO from banishment. We need the company in London. The North has its own superb company in Opera North. The ENO is creative, adventurous and daring. I love its mainly British cast and giving them a chance to shine for their home audience. As for this review, KH has it down to a fine art. Thank you.