Round One to the singers: Das Rheingold at the ROH
The Royal Opera
Royal Opera House
Amphitheatre Upper Slips CC15, £19
2 October 2018
Keith Warner’s production of Das Rheingold was the very second thing I ever saw at the Royal Opera House, back in 2007 when they opened the general rehearsal to students; and then in 2012 it was one of the first rehearsals I attended as a new member of staff. Each time I despised the bejesus out of it – but on this third exposure, this evening, I felt more its strengths than its failings. Why? Perhaps I am more mellow, or at least my expectations more realistic; and no doubt having 11 years to mull over what on earth Warner could mean has dulled some of its initial abrasion. But I think it is primarily down to the 2018 cast.
In 2007 I was morally wounded on Philip Langridge and John Tomlinson’s behalves, appalled that these hero emeriti of my infatuated youth should be made so to lark about. In 2012 Bryn Terfel’s voice could not support the heap of excitement that had built up in me after a summer of spying on him in the canteen. In 2018 the cast is less starry – at least for Das Rheingold – but also uniformly excellent. It is a rare experience, for very good practical reasons, to experience a complete Wagner opera and for each singer to impress; and so I waited in a quietly expanding wonder as from Lauren Fagan’s Woglinde through to Wiebke Lehmkuhl’s Erda each singer gave complete satisfaction.
Time will tell if this standard holds as Wagner brings on the beef for the cycle proper, but the example set by the leads in Das Rheingold is encouraging. John Lundgren as Wotan has just the kind of voice that gets me going, tending towards reedy, almost nasal, leaving a tanniny taste as of copper on the fingers; my only complaint is he is perhaps a shade too indifferent to the production’s shenanigans. Johannes Martin Kränzle draws a wheedling, snivelling, Beckmesser-like Alberich, not a Hagen criminal mastermind but someone more openly fearful of weakness; it will be so interesting to see his take on the later operas. Alan Oke as Loge was bang-on and impressively loud; Brindley Sherratt as Fafner is back to true stertorous form; Gerard Siegel as Mime and Sarah Connolly as Fricka are as splendid as they always are; and of course, for Freia’s few precious notes, there is the wondrous phenomenon of Lise Davidsen. Every singer had great sound, great musicianship, and with few exceptions intelligent engagement with Warner’s winsomeness.
The orchestra, by contrast, didn’t quite meet my expectations, often losing focus as the textures expanded with the effect of dulling Wagner’s articulacy. This is not to say they played without character or without shape: the music’s moments of intense dramatic gesture still speak, and by the finale the orchestra had transcended their differences in tempo to achieve a shimmering, levitating glory in the bridge to Valhalla. Perhaps the imprecision is just second-cycle fatigue, or a legacy of unsettledness from the great-idea-but-always-problematic lights-off opening. Again: time will tell.
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