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The Rhinegold – English National Opera London Coliseum

The Ring Cycle is epic in scope, with The Rhinegold being the first of four parts of the saga inspired by Norse mythology.

The RhinegoldWagner’s Ring Cycle has a reputation for being a long and mighty epic, and the ENO’s production of The Rhinegold remains true to the spirit of the Norse saga, throwing in elements of the unexpected to liven things up.

The opera opens with the Rhine Maidens, a trio of water nymphs clad in fluorescent lycra, looking like a team of synchronised swimmers, who command a shoal of shadowy figures to swirl around in circles. Steward Laing’s set design of shimmering tinsel conveys the rippling effect of the watery depths, before doubling as a backdrop for future scenes.

Leigh Melrose, suitably menacing as the dwarf king Alberich, makes clumsy attempts to woo the maidens, before turning his attention to a glint of gold at the bottom of the river. Whoever wears a ring forged from this gold will rule the world, but there is a catch – the wearer must renounce worldly pleasures. Spurned by the sprites, Alberich is keen to get his hands on their treasure by way of consolation.

To suggest its magical properties, the gold takes on a life of its own, animated, through the art of puppetry, in the form of a small child. The unfortunate creature is grabbed by Alberich and taken off-stage to be melted down into something resembling a giant Ferrero Rocher. From this massive nugget, the fabled ring is forged – and the gods soon learn of its existence and want a piece of the action.

John Relyea cuts an authoritative figure as Wotan, King of the Gods, while Madeleine Shaw, as his wife Fricka, sings with clarity and poise. Having promised Fricka’s sister Freia to a couple of giants in return for the building of Valholl, the grand palace of the gods, Wotan plans to steal the gold from Alberich and offer this in her place. The giants, brothers Fafner and Fasolt agree, taking the protesting Freia hostage until they get their pay-off.

Rather than a gloomy cavern, Alberich’s subterranean bolthole is a massive factory where an army of workers slave away on a production line churning out gold ingots. Alberich’s brother Mime (John Findon) is forced to make a magical helmet that has the power to make its wearer invisible or shapeshift into animal form. When Alberich transforms himself into a toad by way of demonstration, he is captured and forced to give up the gold. He puts a curse on the ring so that whoever sets eyes on it will be filled with a murderous desire to own it.

The giant brothers arrive in Brinks-Matt mode in an orange truck, ready to collect their gold, and argue over the ring. The curse comes into effect in a brutal scene where Fafner beats his brother to death with a gold ingot, before leaving with the bullion. Freia, played by Katie Lowe, mourns Fasolt’s death in a touching lament, before being finally reunited with her family. Order is restored to Valhalla, but it’s not happily ever after, as the Rhine maidens are left fuming over the theft of their gold.

The Rhinegold is sung in English with surtitles. It is showing at The Coliseum in London until 10 March.

4 stars

Review by Angela Lord

When the forging of a prophesied ring of the Rhine proves more problematic than you’d possibly think, the realms of gods and men prove all the more chaotic for it. Giants, dwarfs, nymphs and deities quarrel and clash, with the fate of the nine worlds in the balance.

The Rhinegold – English National Opera
London Coliseum, London
18 Feb 2023 – 10 Mar 2023
2 hours 45 minutes (no interval)

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