The Rhinegold

Richard Wagner
English National Opera
London Coliseum (in rep)
(2004)

Frank Matcham's Coliseum, home of the English National Opera, is restored to its former glory. Sadly the same cannot be said for Wagner's Ring Cycle, if Phyllida Lloyd's production of The Rhinegold is a foretaste of things to come.

However delightful the spectacle of leggy Rhine daughters frolicking against a background of shimmering tinsel - and delightful they are - nightclub pole-dancers hardly capture the spirit of a fantasy set at the beginning of the world. No more does the confinement of a modern apartment reflect a mountaintop.

The director, primarily a practitioner of spoken theatre, it would seem, has sought to present a spectacular fantasy in a box set. Worse, she seems to have overlooked the scale of the music written to engage with, and often dispute, events on stage.

Updating Wagner is no offence, if done with understanding. But if the means is to defer to the age of the soap opera - more The Bill than EastEnders - then disservice is performed here. How many Oscars would Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings have captured with this sort of kow-towing to cool modernity?

With principals chosen to reflect the setting, the opportunity is taken to introduce young singers new to Wagner. As a result much of the singing is light, matching the surroundings.

Robert Hayward's Wotan has yet to supply the stature of this role while Susan Parry appears vocally unsure as Fricka. Tom Randle looks like a mobster Loge while sounding more old English madrigal. Only Andrew Shore as Alberich offers real authority, though there is enjoyable singing from some of the smaller roles.

Paul Daniel's orchestra is both grand and expressive enough for me, with some especially fine detail. Alas, though, if Richard Strauss chose to reflect the domestic scene with his music, Richard Wagner did not. I grieve for newcomers for whom today's Coliseum Ring is their first experience of this great adventure. A story of such proportions, inspired by mythology, laced with fairytale and with a score to match deserves better.

How to retrieve the remainder of The Ring from this prelude? Therein lies the challenge ahead and the reason for persevering.

"The Rhinegold" can be seen on March, 11,13, 17,19 and the second opera of the cycle, "The Valkerie", opens on May 8, completion of the cycle taking place later in the year.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole