When you put two geniuses together there is no guarantee that what they create will match the expectation; there is no such concern here as Antonio Pappano conducts Barrie Kosky’s bold new imagining of Wagner’s Das Rheingold with the musical brilliance of the orchestra matched by an outstanding cast. This production marks the start of a new Ring Cycle for The Royal Opera and this is undoubtedly a prelude of exciting things to come from the wonderful pairing of Pappano and Kosky.
Any new production of Wagner’s Ring has to remain faithful to its mythical origins but also needs to find a way to connect to its modern audience, but that balance is achieved and some in this vibrant theatrical production set at the beginning of time and of life.
Rufus Didwiszus’s simple yet symbolic monochromatic staging has its emphasis very much on play as it allows a dark. withered ash tree to serve for the sub-marine, subterranean, and mountain locations, with bursts of light and splashes of colour from designer Alessandro Carletti bringing the spectacular to life.
Victoria Behr’s costumes establish and identify the characters from the clique polo set gods to the gangster-like giants who make things happen, including one clubbing the other to death with a borrowed mallet. The children working in the gold mine all have deformed heads which tinges what was once merely a recollection of times gone by with the sad modern-day reality of exploitation and mankind’s destruction of natural resources..
So much for the new, the production begins with magic and mystery as the Rhinedaughters (Katharina Konradi, Niamh O’Sullivan; Marvic Monreal) looking after the gold are deceived by Alberich (Christopher Purves) who renounces love for might and wealth, but with a shrivelled Mother Earth, Erda (Rose Knox-Peebles), looking on throughout, human vices over virtues will have consequences as becomes clear when she is voiced by Wiebke Lehmkuhl later.
The cast is uniformly strong, having been hand-picked as much for their acting prowess as their singing ability which complements the interpretation and ensures dramatic tension is attained and maintained throughout, none more so than when differing worlds collide, with all the characters clearly defined in terms of easily recognisable human qualities.
Christopher Maltman delivers a focused and powerful Wotan matched by Marina Prudenskaya’s portrayal of his wife, the haughty Fricka, with superb support from brothers Donner (Kostas Smoriginas) and Froh (Rodrick Dixon) and sister Freia (Kiandra Howarth) who is well and truly worth her weight in gold to the infatuated Fasolt, in a touching portrayal from In Sung Sim showing that bad boys can have a heart in contrast to the nicely balanced aggression of brother Fafner (Soloman Howard). Purves revels as Alberich to whom total power corrupts totally, with the obvious contrast to his much put upon brother Mime, sensitively captured by Brenton Ryan. Whilst uniformly strong, the standout was Sean Panikkar’s scene-stealing Loge which provided a distinctive nod to classical theatre with its Bacchus-like portrayal.
This is Pappano’s final season as musical director although it is intended he will return to conduct each of the four parts of this Ring as they come round before passing the baton on to his successor, Jakub Hrůša. Tonight, Pappano maintained the perfect ebb and flow with the score whilst drawing out excellent playing from the orchestra.
This isn’t a production that holds back, yet its success lies not in being explicit or graphic, rather it is in its intelligent interpretation that cleverly and delightfully subsumes your imagination and resonates the story with your own experiences.
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 20th September 2023
North West End UK Rating: