dmg media (UK)

Tv & Critics

Das Rheingold Royal Opera House, London Until September 29 ★★★★★ As the curtain went up, I couldn’t hold back the thought that this new Ring Cycle had better be good, because the Royal Opera has sacrificed a lot to keep outgoing music director Antonio Pappano in place to conduct it over the next four years. An incoming music director of distinction would surely want to do it himself. The Royal Opera has ended up with a talented Czech, Jakub Hrusa, without much experience of Wagner – fine in these circumstances – but also not much apparent awareness of the operatic repertory more generally. He has less than 20 operas under his belt, it is said. So there will be much pressure on Pappano and director Barrie Kosky to deliver a triumph. Kosky also is not a very experienced Wagnerian, but has obviously given this Ring a lot of thought. ‘I am stripping it back to the quintessential human condition’, he explains. ‘I want somehow to develop this world which is, on the one hand, full of recognisable human beings with all their flaws, and all their anxieties, loves and hatreds, but at the same time I want to deal with something which is epic, mythological and unexplained.’ So far so good. But after a somewhat disappointing evening, the question has to be asked whether Kosky and Pappano have a cast capable of presenting the kind of coherent Ring Cycle to which they aspire. Christopher Maltman is an experienced Wagnerian, but his Wotan lacks weight and charisma. Christopher Purves’ Alberich is better but, on this evidence, past its best. The Gods are drawn from all over the universe, and this is obvious as they sing. Some, like Soloman Howard’s Fafner, are both vocally and physically convincing. Others, like the inevitable voices from Eastern Europe, don’t sound especially idiomatic. Even more disappointing is Sean Panikkar’s cackling Loge, the worst I have heard in many years. Pappano and his orchestra sound well, even if not at their very best. But the principal burden will rest upon Kosky to show that he has the ability to sort this lot out, and, busy as he is, the time to do this project justice. For me it’s a sadness that much has been made of the installation of an 82-year-old ever-present actress as Erda. It’s not a new idea. As Kosky makes clear in his interview, he first introduced it into his only previous Ring Cycle, back in 2009. The danger is it will be seen as just a novelty without real substance – which of course is just what it is.