Opera North’s concert staging of Das Rheingold features a minimal cast and no chorus, scenery or props.
Fortunately the massive orchestra has been retained. Music director Richard Farnes is a supple and fluid conductor who is able to draw surprisingly lyrical movements from the piece. The ebb and flow of the Rhine and the panoramic view of Valhalla are beautifully brought to life. This subtle approach minimises the bombast of Wagner’s score but keeps all of its power so that, when necessary, the full force of the music has a shattering effect.
Peter Mumford’s staging is audacious, as the story of the gradual decline of the Norse Gods is summarised by subtitles emerging on screens at the rear of the stage, which convey also images of the Rhine. His simple staging is devastatingly effective -the harp section, bathed in a golden spotlight, represents Valhalla. The modern-day dress of the cast draws parallels with the current political situation. Alberich (Peter Sidhom) whose passion is perverted into a lust for gold could be an asset-stripper and the Gods, who arrogantly ignore all warning signs and march towards oblivion, would be right at home in the cabinet.
It is, however, difficult to find any likable characters in the opera. The Rhinemaidens are nasty flirts and their Gods have a hideous sense of self-entitlement. A degree of sympathy goes to Loge (a marvellously reptilian Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke) whose self-awareness makes him an outsider amongst the Gods. Michael Druiett's deep vocals and striking stage presence are perfect for Wotan, father of the Gods. Only Alberich has characteristics to which one might relate. The dwarf is abused by everyone but retains a degree of dignity and Sidhom even manages to find a little humour in the opera.
Opera North has always presented challenging productions and the decision to simply concentrate on Wagner’s music may be their boldest idea to date. They are producing all four parts of the Ring cycle over the next couple of years. If this one is anything to go, then these will be must-see events.