Revelatory Das Rheingold from Gothenburg Opera

25/11/2018

Wagner, Das Rheingold: Soloists and dancers, Gothenburg Opera Orchestra / Evan Rogister (conductor), Gothenburg Opera, 17.11.2018. (NS)

Alberich (Olafur Sigurdarson, centre) & The Golden Child (Sara Suneson)
(c) Mats Bäcker

Production:

Director – Stephen Langridge
Set and costume design – Alison Chitty
Set and costume design assistant – Fabrice Serafino
Lighting design – Paul Pyant
Movement instructor – Annika Lindqvist

Cast:

Wotan – Anders Lorentzson
Donner – Mats Persson
Froh – Tomas Lind
Loge – Brenden Gunnell
Alberich – Olafur Sigurdarson
Mime – Daniel Ralphsson
Fasolt – Henning von Schulman
Fafner – Mats Almgren
Fricka – Katarina Karnéus
Freia – Carolina Sandgren
Erda – Hege Høisæter
Woglinde – Mia Karlsson
Wellgunde – Frida Engström
Flosshilde – Ann-Kristin Jones

The Seven Narrators (silent roles): Sara Suneson (The Golden Child), Sara Wikström (Grimhilde), Ivan Dajic, Jérôme Delbey, Rasmus Hanák, Mio Netzler Liljedahl, Herbjörn Thordarson

Stephen Langridge’s new production of Das Rheingold is the start of a complete Ring cycle that will reach its completion in 2021, the 400th anniversary of the city of Gothenburg. Mr Langridge looked for ‘an artistic project where sustainability is part of the artistic idea’ and found the theme in Wagner’s Ring, where nature is plundered and violated. In a seminar before the premiere he and other members of the company described the holistic approach to creating a sustainable opera production using nearly 100% sustainable materials. But Mr Langridge and Alison Chitty stressed that the aesthetic of the production has come out of how they want to tell the story.

Alison Chitty’s set is made of recycled wood, with three walls that look plain under white light but otherwise take Paul Pyant’s lighting beautifully. Clever rotation of set elements on turntables and imaginative lighting turn the same room from a watery Rhine to the shining realm of the Gods and to a nightmarish Nibelheim. My most vivid visual memories of the production are all to do with the story: the torture of the child representing the Rhinegold in Nibelheim; the rainbow of plastic waste where the discarded Rhinegold was lying among the yellows while the complacent gods ascended to Valhalla; and the endless procession of extras flowing like (and representing) the waters of the Rhine in the opening scene.

The mesmerising opening scene was beautifully imagined and presented, and the Rhinemaidens (Mia Karlsson, Frida Engström and Ann-Kristin Jones) ‘swam’ through the waters simply by being gracefully carried by the dancers (‘the seven narrators’) who are omnipresent in the production. The Rhinemaidens’ green makeup was unflattering but there was nothing wrong with their voices, which sang out with the carefree joy that was soon banished from the world. Their teasing flirtations with Alberich were convincing, but the most beautiful moment was the entrance of the Golden Child representing the Rhinegold, whose playful dance was done with the innocence of a child – an innocence which was forever destroyed by Alberich’s curse on love and theft of the terrified child.

What most strikes me about Mr Langridge’s interpretation is this connection between humanity and nature, and the equivalence of violence against nature with violence against humanity. This point is made several times, such as when Wotan uses the same axe that he used to cut a branch of the World Ash Tree to sever Alberich’s finger to steal the Ring. Anders Lorentzon ably represented the many layers of Wotan’s character: his voice could carry the arrogant self-confidence of the leader of the gods but also the worry of a man caught in a trap of his own making. Wotan and Loge’s confrontation with Alberich and their cunning manipulation of him was a high point.

Fricka is also a character with different facets, which Katarina Karnéus demonstrated both in her criticism of Wotan for selling her sister to the giants, but also in her vulnerability that Loge cunningly exploited, so that she urged Wotan to steal the Ring and the gold from Alberich. I eagerly await hearing her in Die Walküre. Hege Høisæter’s Erda was gripping, and Carolina Sandgren was affecting as Freia. Fasolt and Fafner were imposing (aided by clever use of screens to show their tall shadows) and Henning von Schulman’s Fasolt had a particularly fine and expressive bass.

Brenden Gunnell was fascinating as Loge, his agile tenor perfectly capturing the demi-god’s slipperiness but with beautiful diction that made it easy to follow his manipulative arguments. His voice never sounded forced or hard and his acting was every bit as convincing as his tenor. Daniel Ralphsson was a perfect fit as Mime: his voice expressed the dwarf’s self-pity and his obsession with revenge on his brother, but also movingly brought out the memory of innocence lost. His movement captured the furtiveness of Mime.

The most impressive soloist of the night was the magnificent Olafur Sigurdarson, whose Alberich has no equal that I have heard. He vividly explored Alberich’s twisted soul, and his baritone had such breadth of expression that he could terrify in Alberich’s megalomaniac moments but also make one shiver with his pianissimo mutterings. His diction was always clear. He was gripping in his confrontations with Wotan and Loge.

Evan Rogister conducted with great sensitivity to the music and to the balance with the singers, which was almost always perfect. The Gothenburg Opera orchestra achieved a golden sound and a chamber music atmosphere when accompanying the singers. But at the right moment the sound changed, such as in their feverish intensity in the descent to Nibelheim, a fitting evocation of its terrors. My final impression was of their glorious arpeggios as the gods entered Valhalla and left behind the husk of the Rhinegold and the detritus of empty consumerism.

Niklas Smith

Playing until 9 December 2018, see the Gothenburg Opera website (click here), which is wrong in saying that there are only Swedish surtitles – there are also English surtitles!

Swedish Radio broadcast the premiere live, the programme can be listened to on the Swedish Radio website (click here) and app (SR Play) until about 17 December 2018.

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