The Rhinegold Review: Jones’ Production Lacked Dignity and Power

I have a real problem figuring out what to do with ENO’s production of this opera. The audience seemed to enjoy it and I could see why, but I’m not sure I agree with them. Let me see if I can explain.

Wagner’s rhine gold it is the first part of his epic Ring cycle which began around 1850 and ended 24 years later. The plot is derived from ancient Norse myths about an all-powerful magic ring, but Wagner reworked the story as Tolkien did later to produce his Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Just as Tolkien wrote three long books preceded by The Hobbitwhich was much shorter, Wagner gave us rhine gold as a headline, about two hours and three quarters (no interval in this production, mind you), followed by three much longer works.

The music is magnificently powerful, the original German libretto, which Wagner also wrote, is just as amazing, and there is not a dull moment.

ENO’s current output is described on the show as “a vivid, contemporary response to Wagner’s epic” and I think that’s the source of my reservations.

On one hand, I think director Richard Jones has done a good job of turning a 19th-century German treatment of an ancient Icelandic myth into something suitable for a 21st-century British audience, but I’m still dubious about whether one should even try. to do such a thing.

Even before the overture began, we were treated to the sight of a naked man removing a massive branch from the stage before another man wearing only underwear dragged a heavily cropped version of the same branch.

There was some laughter from the audience, possibly acknowledging the reference to Yggdrasill, the ash tree from Norse mythology that held the world together and from which Wotan, head of the gods, carved a mighty spear.

Or they may have been amused by the sight of men dragging trees across the stage. My own feelings were that one does not laugh at Wagner and set the wrong tone for what was to follow.

On the plus side, the cast was excellent. American bass baritone John Relyea sang and played the role of Wotan with great authority, British baritone Leigh Melrose had a fine voice as the evil dwarf Alberich, though I thought he overplayed the evil, and British tenor Frederick Ballentine gave him real character. . to the part of the mischievous god Loge.

The two basses, Simon Bailey (UK) and James Cresswell (USA) impressed as the giants Fasolt and Fafner, but the best overall performance came from mezzo-soprano Christine Rice in the relatively small part of Erda, the Goddess of the land, which brought great authority. her back to proceedings when she came to turn Wotan away from disastrous actions.

Christine Rice also struck me as the most appropriately costumed cast member. Everyone else seemed to be dressed in lounge suits or tracksuits, which seemed very incongruous to gods and mythological dwarves. Other mysteries in the design included a golden baby (brilliantly operated by puppeteers in black) and a stage design that included some inexplicably huge white spheres (probably not Chinese weather globes).

My general feeling that the production lacked the dignity and power it deserved was heightened by a rather clumsy English translation of the libretto, which too often showed a tendency to descend into colloquial expressions that seemed out of place. I suppose I would have to give the production high marks as a modern English-language version of a German classic, but I can’t help but suspect that if Richard Wagner had been there, he would have been gone very soon.

Following the Arts Council’s atrocious decision to cut their grant to ENO, it’s unclear if plans to stage the entire Ring cycle will be completed. After last year’s Valkyrie, the last two parts have been plunged into financial limbo. Despite my reservations about the current production and the general policy of singing Wagner in English, I feel it would be a great shame if this epic project is not completed. We can only come to a fair judgment after seeing all four parts.

  • Ticket office: 020 7845 9300 or www.eno.org (various dates until March 10)

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