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The ENO presents The Rhinegold, the first opera in Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle, a radical political satire entrenched in magic and mythology. This new production follows Richard Jones’s 2021’s production of The Valkyrie, sung in English in a new translation by John Deathridge.
From stolen gold, an all-powerful ring is forged, setting in motion an epic tussle of greed. Mythical beings and deities clash over the ring, with the fate of multiple worlds in the balance. In this struggle between good and evil, chaos and bad behaviour reign supreme.
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ENO Responders 22/23
The beginning of Das Rheingold is the music of the World’s creation. From the bassy nothingness at the dawn of time Wagner brings light, colour, speech and the first motifs of The Ring, setting the stage for the following 16 and half hours of music. The opening sequence of ENO’s The Rhinegold introduces us in the same way to how Richard Jones’ production will play out, beautifully sung, wonderful music, but hit-and-miss staging.
The opening was a nude Wotan gradually carving his spear (and himself more clothing). The aforementioned bassy nothingness comes once the spear is made, surrounding and immersive. At this stage I looked at the stage backdrop, an am-dram affair of black streamers and thought ‘that could get irritating, I hope that’s not there the entire show.’ It was there the entire show.
The first voices are supplied by the three Rhine-daughters singing and frolicking, not in the Rhine but on a jog. The primal power of the river was played by a group of tracksuited runners who looked like they were trying to sell weed in Camden. The lecherous Alberich (Leigh Melrose) emerged from a hole on the track. Melrose was creepy and sang well (though his sneezing lacked oomph).
John Relyea is a magnificent Wotan, the rich power of his voice commands the attention. Relyea needs no magic ring to rule the stage. Julian Hubbard sang Froh (sponsored by Gucci) beautifully but lacked volume. Frederick Ballentine’s Loge was charming, funny but believable, dressed in business hiking attire. John Findon’s Mime was fine but could do with a bit more wheedling for my taste. Erda was Christine Rice, she left Wotan and the audience infatuated with transcendent vocals.
The staging had some fantastic and funny details, schoolgirl Norns crop up and stalk the primary characters before summoning Erda. Alberich’s Tarnhelm toad was a Kermit-esque puppet. In scene 4 Fafner reverses a lorry on stage to collect the gold. That said it lacked any coherence, there was no real theme between scenes other than a vague modern vibe. Catering for the Wagnerian moth community lighting director Adam Silverman has placed a strip light front and centre for scene 3.
John Deathridge’s English translation works flawlessly. Wagner’s poetry eschews iambic meter, based instead on Nordic Edda styles which focus on set emphases in each line. Deathridge has mirrored this perfectly, each phrase hits as it ought to without ever slipping into nonsense.
This would be a five star performance if they got rid of that wretched backdrop and strip light. I left beaming and bought tickets to see it again before I even wrote this review. Take Loge’s advice and come bask in the Godly, blissful brilliance at ENO.
Giants, dragons, cursed gold, and a complex lore that is intimidating yet satisfying to throw yourself into. No, this is neither Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) nor The Lord of the Rings, but The Rhinegold – the preliminary evening to Wagner’s epic Ring cycle – for which English National Opera has commissioned a new translation by John Deathridge.
In his vision for The Rhinegold, director Richard Jones capitalises on the kitschiness and nerdiness enjoyed by many elements of Wagner’s world, now commonly associated with epic fantasy. Instead of playing into the Middle Earth look, though, it’s more like an American high school D&D club staging an amateur production. Garish tinsel decorates the background; huge white balls stuck together signpost heaven’s clouds; the gods, suddenly in their winter years because they can’t get the golden apples which keep them young, shuffle onstage in cheap masks under a spotlight.
The tacky presentation of The Rhinegold highlights both its humour, which could be lost in a swords and sorcery production, and the divisive reputation which Wagner’s epic shares with many high fantasy franchises. Some love the Ring in its completeness and complexity, while others just don’t get it.
Jones awkwardly handles characters who demand seriousness: John Rolyea’s Wotan and Madeleine Shaw’s Fricka don’t fit into this production’s naffness. The players arranged into classes shine though. The sibling giants, Fafner and Fasolt, sung by James Cresswell and Simon Bailey, respectively, are my favourites. Fortunately, their graceless physicality does not carry over to their booming voices. The Rhinemaidens (Eleanor Dennis, Idunnu Münch and Katie Stevenson), each wearing different colours of matching lycra, had the group chemistry of the ‘Plastics’ from Mean Girls.
Jones’s utilisation of class works best when characters deviate from it. The transformation of Alberich (Leigh Melrose) from socially awkward dwarf to ruthless despot is tastefully exaggerated. One of The Rhinegold’s highlights is his back and forth with Frederick Ballentine’s Loge, an ironic observer who doesn’t seem to fit anywhere, in Act IV. Martyn Brabbins’s conducting here speeds along the moment, heightening the tension.
It’s evident that those with power are in managerial clothes and those who don’t wear sportswear – but it’s not clear why. This disjunct is accented because the tailoring is modern (Loge wears a puffa under his suit) but the sportswear nostalgically recalls films like Superbad and American Pie.
A standalone production of a cycle’s preliminary evening is no easy undertaking, particularly when faced with audiences’ potential anxieties surrounding an opera which requires a good deal of pre-reading and that’s almost three hours long. But ENO rises to the challenge, poking fun at its grandiosity, inviting us to do the same.
Richard Jones’ ‘Rhinegold’ left people speechless for a multitude of different reasons. Following on from his 2021 production of ‘The Valkyrie’, which received mixed reviews, Jones again brings us a performance that divides the crowd.
Often considered the turning point in opera, Wagner’s works are well-cemented into the core repertoire. He rejected conventional forms of opera and strived to instead create ‘music-dramas’ – a synthesis of all art-forms. Essentially a prequel to the ‘Ring Cycle’, the plot of ‘Rhinegold’ is based on Norse mythology. In short: a group of gods try to steal gold from a dwarf, to settle their debt with some giants.
The orchestral nerd within me was excited to see four harps and a percussion section framing the stage – I was gearing up for a proper big-shiny-Wagnerian orchestra. Although the beginning of the prelude was slightly shaky, the entire Coliseum was soon consumed by a sea of Eb major. I wrote down in my journal: ‘This is what an overture should be like – pure ambiance’. Wagner’s instrumentation places great emphasis on the brass section and the french horns did not disappoint. Considering the sheer scale of the score, Martyn Brabbins navigated it well; he kept control of the orchestra but didn’t go much further than that.
The opening sequence (a naked man dragging a tree branch across the stage) definitely amused the audience. As the branch lost its leaves, he gained more clothes, eventually morphing into a suited-up Wotan with his spear. By reducing elevated figures down to their primal roots, Jones acknowledges the skewed power hierarchy within the plot. Certain visual elements of the production were just tacky: a slightly creepy rhinegold baby, a toad puppet and roadmen in Nike tracksuits. The video, showing stacks of golden bricks, could have easily been taken from early 2000’s Super Mario Bros.
I don’t know what I was expecting from the Rhinemaidens but it definitely was not neon lycra. Wagner was said to have worn pink satin underwear, but I think even he would find this a bit too much. The costumes (Stewart Laing) in general felt incoherent – I overheard one member of the audience liken them to the clearance section of TK Maxx. Loge looked like a confused schoolboy who shouldn’t have been allowed to pick out his own socks.
None of the singers blew me away. Frederick Ballentine as Loge was probably the highlight, bringing a sense of mischievous energy to the role. John Relyea made his ENO debut as Wotan, but occasionally struggled with projection. Perhaps down to issues with orchestral balance, a number of his passages lacked clarity.
Jones’ production impressed musically but the overwhelming emotion I felt when leaving was confusion. Perhaps better described as a ‘mishmash’ of all the art-forms, than the synthesis that Wagner intended.
Wagner would be incredibly pleased to see what ENO has done with the ‘small’ first act of his Ring Cycle. The company has elevated The Rhinegold to Brechtian Epic Theatre; we know that we are watching an opera, and the production uses this fact to its fullest advantage. ENO is not pretending to be an Amazon Prime Lord of the Rings act; they are prepared to embrace the strange, the humorous and creatively play with the limits of the stage.
Designer Steward Laing has done wonders with the set design, which mixes the abstract and symbolic with the everyday (see: the giant’s lorry reversing onto stage). I admire his tinsel Rhine and the excellent choreography (Sarah Fahie, movement director) with the dancers creating ripples that travel the height of the Coliseum stage. This eclectic assortment of high fantasy and Nike outfits shows the enduring nature of Wagner’s work and its adaptability to modern audiences.
Richard Jones has directed the cast to make our dysfunctional family of gods utterly infuriating; they spent most of the opera bickering with each other and are brought together only by their desire for power. When Freia stands over Fasolt’s body weeping, (Katie Lowe and Simon Bailey both sung brilliantly) we know that she has lost a source of much-needed affection, even if she was bought for the giant’s pleasure.
However, the show’s real star was Loge (Frederick Ballentine), who owned the stage. From his signature luminescent gloves, which highlight his very expressive hands, to his casual manner when dealing with cataclysmic forces, he is the perfect archetype of the trickster. Ballentine’s voice is also exceptional, changing shades of sly at a second’s notice to show us that he is the brains of Wotan’s operation.
Wotan (John Relyea) is another highlight, using his voice to project insecurity or triumph depending on the winds of the hour. Finally, our Alberich (Leigh Melrose) goes from lustful wretch to master of the universe in a heartbeat and completely transforms himself, eventually into a toad. His devious smile took up the whole stage with a voice as sharp to compliment. The rest of the cast was solid, notably our Rhinemaidens (Eleanor Dennis, Iddunnu Münch and Katie Stevenson) and Erda (Christine Rice), who was resplendent.
Martyn Brabbins manages Wagner’s titanic score fluently, keeping the orchestra from drowning the singers while making an impactful sound at critical moments. Wagner uses six harps in this score; when they come in for the prismatic climax of the score, it is a thing to behold and hear. ENO has clearly pulled out all the stops for this one and succeeded to the highest degree. Remember to use the bathroom beforehand as there is no interval, and this is a Wagner opera.
Richard Jones new production of Richard Wagner’s Ring of Nibelung is definitely a treat for the wandering eye; although three long excruciating hours with no intervals you certainly will be given a masterpiece to look at on stage. Set in Germany, Das Rheingold presents us with a tragic opera involving unrequited love, lust and revenge of the stolen gold baby.
Although you may leave this production feeling slightly confused I can guarantee you that the stage will not disappoint. Stewart Laing ticked every box for me when it came to the designs and props of the stage. Starting off with a beautiful shimmering curtain as a backdrop throughout the opera, to a humongous gold baby, who later gets stolen in a plot for revenge. this is easily one of the best stage productions from the ENO that I have ever laid my eyes on. The falling gold from the sky was a beautiful cinematic touch and the glistening gold piles made it almost believable it might be gold. The star of the opera was really the magical ending with the gleaming, glittering confetti raining down, paired with the astonishing harp which spilled out of the pit onto boxes on the side of stage, it was truly transfixing and extremely majestic. In spite of the fact that it concludes with death this ending was extremely powerful. The coloured confetti towards the end of scene 4 looked extremely surreal and I left with goose bumps traveling down entire body. A special mention to the harpist, beautiful playing , who added the extra magic.
Martyn Brabbins is permanently on a winning streak in my books, magnificently orchestrated and well matched with the scenes on stage, whether that means getting intense and creating a build-up or foreshadowing that something positive is about to take place. My favourite touch was the ringing bells out in auditorium that had every single one of us in the audience scanning the coliseum and wandering where it could be coming from, an excellent touch to the opera.
Fredrick Ballentine who plays Loge has amazing voice projection which flows absolutely beautifully with the orchestra. John Relyea and Madeleine Shaw (Wotan and Fricka) definitely capture the talent the ENO has to present to us. They both honour their personas perfectly and are a good duo to be husband and wife. An honourable mention to Leigh Melrose and John Findon (Alberich and Mime) who both portrayed their character excellently and Melrose plays the villain a little too well I almost started to believe him.
Although you may have a flattened bum by the end of this opera it is certainly worth it as the ending is spectacular and one of a kind. You may be a little bewildered watching The Rhinegold however the cast, production and set designer pull it all together to create a majestic experience.
A naked man appears on stage, dragging a log. He goes back and forth, with more clothes and a smaller piece of wood each time, eventually appearing as the Norse God Wotan. The point of this is never clear, beyond an attempt to show that this is a semi-modern take on Wagner’s epic; set in the 1960s instead of the dim and distant past.
It only gets more confusing from there. Three daughters of the Rhine shimmy their way through tacky sequined streamers, supposed to represent the river Rhine, clad in neon lycra that does nothing but distract from their voices. As they entertain the Nibelung Alberich, enticing the gullible fool with promises of lust and desire, they endanger their most prized possession – the Rhinegold, supposed to make anyone who possesses it all powerful. Alberich, scorned by the daughters, steals the treasure, or rather its terrifying personification as a puppet baby, and forges a ring.
The fantastical nature of Wagner’s opera is not well served by Stewart Laing’s bizarre choice of design. The opera transitions to the home of Wotan and his fellow gods – Valhalla being depicted by giant white balls on cocktail sticks and glaring strip lighting which felt visually insulting. I can appreciate that for a score as rich as this, director Richard Jones wanted a set that would stand out, but his actors’ garish clothing only emphasised the weakness of their voices. Against an extremely percussion-heavy orchestra, not even the earthy bass-baritone of John Relyea’s Wotan could cut through the noise.
The extreme design choices only exposed the flaws of the production. Poor attempts at humour from the supporting cast were only marginally saved by tenor Frederick Ballantine’s impish Loge, whose bright voice was echoed in the vivid green of his gloves, focusing our attention on his quicksilver hand gestures. Everyone else faded into the background whenever he appeared in the dullness of an Act Two largely revolving around a discussion of how the gods will pay for the building of Valhalla. Consequently, two remarkably synchronised brothers kidnap a limp and saccharine Freia whose screeching soprano ruined any sympathy the audience might have for her; for the goddess of love she was awfully prudish and dour.
Loge and Wotan’s attempt to find the ring and punish Alberich was lacking in conviction, but one can hardly blame them when the supposed gold-mine looks like a soap opera bakery. Confusing plot points that were not developed throughout meant the ending was less than satisfying, despite Jones’ hope that a wall of rainbow confetti leading to Valhalla would distract from the mess that was on stage. Valhalla translates as ‘hall of the fallen’ – this production fell below ENO standards indeed.
Purists beware; Richard Jones’ new production of Rhinegold is not for the faint hearted, it is daring and peculiar but utterly joyous. However, this will not come as a surprise to anyone who witnessed last year’s idiosyncratic Valkyrie, also directed by Jones. But where that production often felt distracted or simply misjudged, Rhinegold is a triumph throughout.
Any expectations that Jones may have played the Rhinegold more conservatively than Valkyrie are instantly dispelled by the opening of a naked man dragging a tree across the Coliseum stage. He returns semi clothed with a log before finally emerging as Wotan, complete with spear. This disarming but welcome comedic touch is straight out of Monty Python and runs through the whole performance; we see it in the use of a frog puppet for Alberich’s transformation and in the obvious mannequin replacement for the dead Fasolt. It is also evidenced in the costumes; the Gods wearing shell suits, and Alberich starting the evening in shorts and t-shirt. These aesthetic decisions work in creating a sort of Brechtian alienation for the audience; in both removing the grounding in time and place it disarms the audience and diffuses the growing tension of the score. The dignity and drama of Wagner is undermined but in doing so this unifies the audience in their experience and creates that rare thing: an instantly accessible Wagner.
That is not to say that it is all perfect. I would go as far as saying that the glorious opening, usually so powerful in depicting the formidable might of the Rhine is almost ruined by the bizarre staging which is almost distressing to the naked eye. The three Rhine-daughters were dressed in Day-Glo leotards performing stunted rhythmic dancing assisted by clearly visible stagehands. This simply did not work. This evoked dodgy school productions and am dram and set an ominous tone for the evening.
I need not have worried. The introduction of baritone Leigh Melrose as Alberich ensured that despite the staging, this performance would be remembered for a string of exemplary vocal performances. His interplay with the three Rhine daughters is delightful, matched perfectly by the orchestra led by Martyn Brabbins. The intensity is continued by the magnificent bass-baritone John Relyea as Wotan, who showed his vast experience through a commanding performance. The Gods as an ensemble were excellent, other highlights included the majestic Madeline Shaw as Fricka and Katie Lowe as Freia.
This Rhinegold will inevitably be divisive but when it is at its best it is opera at its most arresting and unpredictable. The frequent moments of ludic joy this production provides ensure that Rhinegold is a high point of this already impressive season at the ENO.
Greedy giants and lustful dwarves, jealous gods and a magic ring – Wagner’s high-fantasy epic Ring cycle begins with The Rhinegold, which bears the mammoth task of creating this world while succeeding as a complete opera in its own right. Richard Jones’s slick production, however, finds this success unquestionably, enhanced with seamless special effects and a set perfectly balanced between minimalism and sci-fi detail. Wagner pioneered the ‘complete artwork’, unifying musical and theatrical worlds, and Jones’s production manages to realise this vision almost absolutely. The orchestra, ably conducted by Martyn Brabbins, paced the production well, so that (despite 160 minutes of nonstop playing) the grandeur of the finale sounded just as impressive as the opera’s subtle opening chords.
The ENO’s choice to stage The Rhinegold without an interval followed the original performance history and direction, aiming to enhance the ‘completeness’ of the performance and letting interlocking motifs drift into one another without disruption. This was certainly achieved, and worked especially well with the mythic element of the opera, keeping its different strands moving. However, although the opera could not be said to drag, two and a half hours is a very long time. By the end of the performance, I felt like some of its momentum had been lost, depriving us of the engaging freshness necessary to sustain the piece (although it was beautifully reclaimed in the gods’ final scene in Valhalla)
However, what could have been an arduous slog through the fantastical overarching narrative was superbly grounded by the opera’s performers. The ENO on their website state that ‘the gods are all too human’, and the superb expression of human emotion that the whole cast managed really gave the production a rare appeal. Alberich (Leigh Melrose) performed superbly, using his rich, thundering baritone to move from the pantomime villain, capering with evil glee, to a hate-filled, pathetic individual motivated by self-pitying torment. Frederick Ballentine’s Loge had a melodious voice and mischievous mannerisms that embodied his character perfectly, a nice contrast to John Relya as Wotan, whose dark bass was as rigid as his character. The Rhinemaidens, resplendent in 80s spandex fitness-wear, also set the piece off nicely with their soaring sopranos, mixing harmless joy with an edge of malice in their treatment of Alberich.
Just as Wagner intended, the musical element of the production was perfectly complemented its other elements, and the cast should be praised for their theatrical as well as musical performance. The gods really did appear as a bickering family with all its attendant idiosyncrasies, and the vocal performances of the cast brought this artistic vision to life with panache and flair; perhaps the only fault in the evening was that there was no pause for the audience to take it all in!
From the prelude’s first note to the building of a fudgy and delicious E flat major chord, our journey through Wagner’s epic begins with striking music. Martyn Brabbins, ENO Music Director and conductor, leads an 89-piece orchestra that creates texture in Wagner’s score, building from fragmented leitmotifs into swirling treasure chests of sound.
The cast winningly dive into Brabbins’ musical landscape with powerful vocals. The male voices triumph. John Relyea’s commanding bass and perfectly placed vibrato conjure a Wotan that is, at once, strong and self-doubting. Meanwhile, Frederick Ballentine presents a smooth and slick baritone well-suited for the cunning Loge.
Leigh Melrose as Alberich is the standout of the night. Beginning with clumsily flirtatious crooning that develops into forceful, power-hungry proclamations as ring bearer and is later stripped back to humble, reflective laments, Melrose performs an emotionally textured Alberich.
However, Richard Jones’ production of Rhinegold is visually more of a rehearsal room than a main stage performance. The spotlights shimmer on the party fringe encasing the stage, re-imagining a shimmering sunrise on a clear blue lake against an otherwise empty scenario.
Alberich first appears as if for an audition in an oversized t-shirt and unkempt hair. The Rhinemaiden (Eleanor Dennis, Idunnu Munch, and Katie Stevenson; ENO Harewood Artists, past and present), clad in neon spandex, flit across plastic streamers in whimsical 80s home workout choreography. Vocally the Rhinemaiden produce a satisfyingly layered trio, but the eyes deceive.
Entering Valhalla, the garish costumes and minimised staging continue with a brightly coloured charity shop mix-and-matchagainst a toothpick palace. This staging demands a hefty dose of audience imagination.
Jones’ staging is at its best at its most literal. Alberich, all-powerful-ring in hand, opts for visual puppetry as he transforms from dwarf to dragon to frog. Instead of miming magic, Jones’ production chooses visual stagecraft.
This casual Rhinegold feels the operatic equivalent of streaming Lord of the Rings, swapping the ceremony of the theatre for the soft edges of a sofa. Jones’ thesis of highlighting the human fallacies of the Rhinegold’s mythical characters comes at the expense of building a world of myth and magic.
This leisurely interpretation flattens the sprawling hierarchy of Norse mythology into a primetime story. Without power dynamics between the gods, giants, and dwarves, the plot compresses to a tale of thieves after the same pot of gold.
The drama jolts back to life in its final scene. Crossing into Valhalla amidst a backdrop of flashy, rainbow confetti, the Gods take the upper hand in a cliffhanger scene that shudders of vulnerability disguised as power.
As the curtain dropped, kthe audience ripped with applause and a few “bravos,” celebrating the musical integrity of the night. Cutting through Jones’ visual pyrite, Brabbins’ soundscape emerges the hero that gets the gold.
Director Richard Jones’s productions are a lot like marmite, and this new Rhinegold – a collaboration between ENO and New York’s Met – wins a resounding ‘love it!’. The first ‘preliminary evening’ of Wagner’s epic four-day Ring Cycle, The Rhinegold is a mere two and a half hours in an opus that spans 16.
It begins in a mulchy river, but the set design opts for glitz over grime. Streams of silver hang from the ceiling, glimmering in whispering flutters like the sunlight-dappled ripples of the Rhine, or, with a nifty lighting change, like the glinting of gold. Into this twinkling setting emerges Alberich (Leigh Melrose), gulping and swallowing like Tolkien’s Sméagol as he grins, shiny-eyed, from under an emo-fringe of hair. He attempts to seduce the three Rhinemaidens and, embittered by his failure, steals their most precious possession: the Rhine-gold. From this, Alberich forges a ring of ultimate power. And it’s just what Wotan, chief of the gods, needs to pay off the dim-witted giants, Fafner and Fasolt, who built his Valhalla fortress.
Gone are the infamous fatsuits of Jones’ 1994 Rhinegold; in 2023, the Rhinemaidens are lycra-clad pilates mums, wielding their bright sopranos to mock the wretched dwarf, amidst contemporary dance arm whirls and body caresses. The slime of the Rhine is embodied by head-to-toe (including balaclava) Nike-athleisure river-folk, who bear Alberich up in the air as he grasps and clutches for the Rhine-gold, disturbingly depicted as a wailing-faced baby.
If this sounds strange, it is, but the madness suits the method of Wagner’s absurd Ring Cycle. Jones’s Rhinegold is surprisingly funny; Alberich’s transformation into an armadillo-style dragon, then a cheap plastic frog, garnered laughter, as did other creative decisions, from the playful re-imagining of Wotan’s creation of the world to the aging of the self-obsessed gods.
Accompanying most of the action is Loge, Wotan’s wily sidekick, the demi-god of fire. Sensational acting from Frederick Ballentine (previously George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life) brought this character to sassy life; his energy is a great part of this production’s success.
The music too is pure wonder, superbly conducted by Martyn Brabbins. Perfectly paced, with thrumming voluminous climaxes and impressive singing. I can fault no-one, and praise many: the aforementioned Leigh Melrose and Frederick Ballentine, as well as ENO debut John Relyea (Wotan), Madeleine Shaw (Fricka, Wotan’s wife) and John Findon (Mime, Alberich’s brother) were all brilliant, which is not to slight the rest of the cast.
With this production, ENO delivered a truly Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk: fantastic music, spectacle, and creative design – including an inspired evocation of the Rainbow Bridge. It’s a huge shame this Ring Cycle will likely be discontinued due to the Arts Council’s funding cuts.
ENO’s latest production of Wagner’s ‘The Rhinegold’, the first opera in Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle, was a stunning and original take on a perennial tale. Directed by the world-renowned Richard Jones, and under the baton of the esteemed conductor Martyn Brabbins, they managed to bring the mythical world of the Rhine to life in a flamboyant but also sharp-witted way.
At its core, The Rhinegold is a critique of capitalism and the corrupting influence of wealth and power. The central plot revolves around the theft of the Rhinegold, a valuable treasure that gives its owner the power to rule the world. The main antagonist, Alberich, a dwarf who steals the gold, represents the selfish and power-hungry capitalist who is willing to exploit others to gain wealth and status. Wagner was heavily influenced by the political ideologies of his time, particularly the rise of socialism and the struggle for workers’ rights. The character of Mime, the dwarf who is forced to work for Alberich and create the powerful ring, represents the plight of the oppressed working class. Through its portrayal of greed, corruption and the struggle for power, the opera challenges its audience to reflect on the role of wealth and power in society and the destructive nature of blind ambition.
The cast were exceptional and all of the lead singers, supporting characters and ensemble gave strong and moving performances. Baritone Leigh Melrose delivered an outstanding performance as Alberich, the cunning dwarf who steals the Rhinegold and forges the ring. Melrose’s voice was rich and commanding, with a dark and brooding quality that perfectly captured the character’s malevolent intentions. John Relya made his ENO debut as the God Wotan, his clear and powerful bass-baritone voice conveyed both the character’s regal bearing and his growing sense of unease as the plot unfolded. Katie Lowe played the part of Freia, the Goddess of love and fertility, with a sweet and ethereal soprano voice that perfectly captured the character’s graceful essence.
Under Martyn Brabbins’s expert conducting, the orchestra performed flawlessly. Wagner’s formidable score was perfectly executed, and the music flowed naturally with the story. Equally impressive was the ENO Chorus, whose powerful voices filled the auditorium and brought a rousing energy to the stage.
This opera never fails to capture the imagination and attention of the audience, from the opening scene, when the Rhinemaidens emerge from the watery depths, to the thrilling conclusion, when Wotan takes possession of the power ring. Whilst the modern costumes and (tacky?) staging was incompatible with the mythical aspect of the opera, it did not completely detract from Wagner’s fantastical story. It is a production that should not be missed by anyone who is interested in opera or mythology, especially Lord of the Rings fans.