Das Rheingold review – Regents Opera’s lean and mean Wagner packs a punch

Grand Temple, Freemasons’ Hall, London
Ben Woodward’s chamber arrangement of Wagner’s score works well and, if the storytelling feels unclear at points, players and singers alike ensure a vivid experience

A decade ago, Fulham Opera was putting together its first Ring Cycle, ambitious in a slightly bonkers way, with all four of Wagner’s operas staged in a church with piano accompaniment. Now, in its new guise as Regents Opera, the company is doing it all again. This time, though, there’s an 18-strong orchestra, and the venue has been upgraded to the lofty and ornate hall of the Freemasons’ London HQ: this is one Rheingold in which the percussion of the Descent into Nibelheim can be played on the venue’s own anvil.

The hall also has an organ, which comes thunderously into its own in a few well-chosen moments in the conductor Ben Woodward’s arrangement of the music. It’s to the credit of Woodward – who keeps the music moving propulsively throughout – and his hard-working players that this leaner yet richly woven version works so well.

Authoritative … Keel Watson as Wotan in Das Rheingold for Regents Opera.
Authoritative … Keel Watson as Wotan in Das Rheingold for Regents Opera. Photograph: Steve Gregson

With the orchestra at one end of the hall, the action happens on a catwalk stage down the middle, with the audience on each side – close enough to jump whenever Keel Watson’s still, authoritative Wotan issues a command. There are vivid performances too from James Schouten’s slippery Loge, his tenor ringing out in this vibrant acoustic, Henry Grant Kerswell’s guileless Fasolt and Holden Madagame’s desperate Mime. Oliver Gibbs’s Alberich starts off as a gormless old man in a turtleneck, then gains in swagger, shirtless and smeared in gold paint, when he’s master of the ring; his Curse is perhaps the only moment where one seriously misses the wider palette of Wagner’s full orchestra.

As for what the Rheingold actually is in Caroline Staunton’s production, it’s not quite clear. Designed by Isabella van Braeckel, the set is a single, shiny platform covered in pedestals with various small sculptures and other exhibits on top, to which Alberich helps himself in the first scene. It’s simultaneously busy, with the pedestals getting in the way of purposeful movement from one point to another, and sparse, leaving some important elements to the imagination. There’s room for the storytelling to become clearer as this Ring cycle grows over the next two years, but it’s off to a good start.

• Das Rheingold is at Freemasons’ Hall, London, on 17 and 19 November.

Contributor

Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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