Magazine article The Spectator

North Star

Magazine article The Spectator

North Star

Article excerpt

Das Rheingold

Opera North

Le Nozze di Figaro

British Youth Opera

Das Rheingold used to have the reputation of being a difficult opera, in that it not only lasts for two and a half hours without a break, but also involves a considerable amount of discussion, immense quantities of plot, and lacks stretches of lyricism, with a few obvious exceptions. It is one of the operas that have shot up in popularity and esteem thanks to surtitles. Now that it is possible to follow every movement of the drama, audiences find it to be an enthralling, extremely antiromantic study of some fundamental human urges, and a great deal more complex than the usual 'love versus power' formula that it used to be characterised by. For all kinds of reasons Opera North's decision to begin its first-ever Ring cycle with Rheingold is not only wise but also inspired, and the tremendous reception it had at the fifth performance, in Leeds Town Hall, must have been a great encouragement to those involved in the labour of putting on the whole cycle within three years.

It is demi-semi-staged. Three large screens, high and behind the orchestra, have atmosphere-creating moving images, of water to begin with, later of clouds and then of vile, burping lava, finally semi-abstract patterns. Light changes often. Characters not only come and go - and have a tendency to go too soon, often as soon as they have stopped singing (the gods near the end) - but are dressed according to class, clutch one another and mime, while the brilliant Loge of Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke gives a full-scale acting performance. I think a prop or two would be in place - the Ring itself, at least. On the screens we get fragments of narration, aberrantly in the past tense; and it seems arbitrary which parts of the plot we are superfluously informed of and which we are left to infer. Those are minor, corrigible features. The main force of Wagner's icy portrayal of the human tragicomedy comes across, in this realisation, with almost unparalleled - in my experience - impact.

Opera North has cannily selected a cast which includes Ring veterans and also younger professionals, some of whom are singing much larger roles here than they have before. Michael Druiett, the commanding Wotan, with a remarkably Wagnerian profile, not only has a sumptuous voice, but also uses it to express both Wotan's grandeur of aspiration, and his shocking (in this primeval scene) political intriguing, his affection for Fricka and his need to roam, with no exaggerations. …

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