Das Rheingold

(Opera Australia, Melbourne, 30 November 2016) (Dir. Neil Armfield)

This reprise of the production from 2013 seems tighter but the essentials of staging and (thankfully) the precision of the Melbourne Ring Orchestra under Pietari Inkinen, are retained.

In a minor miracle of timing, we have had the election of Mr Trump, an Alberich for our times. Moreover, reports of a dark-haired, wide-browed man – Nibelungen-like – making off with $2.1m in gold from the back of a bank truck in Manhattan – suggest that the stars had aligned for this production.

Having said that, there is a lot of tosh written about The Ring in general and Das Rheingold in particular. The received meaning, the spurning of love for power and gold, seems inadequate, possibly specious.  And Wotan’s machinations do not represent quite so simple a choice as the one some imagine confronts Alberich.  Wotan is such a complex figure that he transcends the mountain of psychological deconstruction to which he has been subjected.  Erda gives Wotan, and us, a clue here: we might as well choose a heroic gesture, she implies, as all will crumble, and only the gesture remains.

WotanA vital new participant in 2016’s Prelude (although it is hardly a prelude in the conventional sense) was James Johnson as Wotan.  His bearing a mixture of grandeur and ricketiness, suggesting the waning power of the godhead, was about right, and his voice was clear and crisp, though a little underpowered.  Jacqueline Dark as his missus was perfect and the various supporting gods and monsters were solid. Some of the self-consciously ‘clever’ touches reappeared, not always to advantage: the supposedly dramatic entrance of Fasolt and Fafner in their construction hoists remains a tiresome distraction, but we have warmed slightly to the Can-Can entrance to Valhalla.

The big star of Rheingold is Alberich of course, and Warwick Fyfe stole the show in his signature role.  His vocal delivery was strong, sure and nuanced; his persona a weird and satisfying mix of Gollum and Henry Kissinger having a tantrum.  At curtain, he got a deserved high-volume wave of appreciation.

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