The new opera season in Great Britain commenced with a Big Bang – the Royal Opera House presented the first chapter of the Wagner’s epic cycle “Der Ring des Nibelungen” – Das Rheingold.
Before last Sunday I had never seen a Wagner opera. The “What’s on” rubric on the Royal Opera House’s website informed me last week that The Rheingold’s production would be broadcast in 1,341 local cinemas in 20 countries around the world. The local theatre ticket costed £18. You can check – the entrance fee for the Royal Opera House is between £193 and £325.
I can assure you my attendance was only 10% linked to the incredible ticket price and the short duration of the Wagner opera.
The other 90% I allocate evenly to the ravishing music of Wagner, the dramatic story and the creative troupe.
I had already admired the brilliant conducting of the musical director Antonio Pappano in Puccini’s Turandot last season and was looking forward to seeing the work of the controversial Australian- born but Berlin-based director Barrie Kosky.
The performance began with a shock – an old woman with long white-grey hair and beautiful delicate face totters across the monochrome scene. She is completely naked. Naked and vulnerable – she is the Mother Earth Erda (splendid acting by the 82-year old Rose Knox-Peebles).
Her presence on the stage is a marvellous innovation of Barry Komsky which is a clear parallel to the current state of the planet and holds the four scenes of the opera together.
If Richard Wagner, the 19th century German composer with emblematic beret, was living nowadays I am pretty sure he would be a big hit at the box offices of Netflix or Amazon Prime.
The spectators know the synopsis of The Rheingold, they know how the story ends. And yet, they are totally absorbed by the imaginative reality of Wagner and his powerful music.
It feels like we follow a chilling thriller on Netflix or watch a Grand Slam tennis match.
Emotions run high in a short space of time, intense ups and downs with a power struggle, betrayal, greed, love, curse, exploitation, murder and humiliation.
Moreover, the singing actors wear modern 21st century clothing.
The Rheingold maidens appear in black lace slip dresses, the dwarf Alberich is in a grey suit or jogging outfit, the gods parade in polo britches and high boots and the giants are tattooed and wear sunglasses.
By the way, the entrance of the giants in scene 2 is outstanding – a real scene from The Godfather, simple and brutal.
Antonio Pappano performs Das Rheingold in his last season as a musical director of the Royal Opera House but he will come back as a conductor for the next three chapters of the cycle.
The second instalment of the Ring and an opera in its own right is Die Walkure. Its duration is five hours with two intervals.
The prominent Italian composer Gioacchino Rossini visited the performance of Wagner’s opera Lohengrin which lasts 4 hours and 35 minutes.
Afterwards he famously concluded “ One cannot judge Wagner’s opera Lohengrin after a first hearing, and I certainly don’t intend to hear it a second time”.
Scusa Maestro Rossini!