BWW Review: DAS RHEINGOLD, Grimeborn Festival, Arcola Theatre
Though I love much about German Romanticism and Nordic culture, the fascination with dwarves, rings and alpha male gods has always rather passed me by. So Julia Burbach's boutique production of Graham Vick and Jonathan Dove's condensing of the mighty Ring Cycle's first section, Das Rheingold, was my introduction to Richard Wagner - and the baggage that always comes with that name. It won't be my last.
Somehow, The Orpheus Sinfonia find enough space for their 18 piece orchestra - for their sake, I hope we don't get another heatwave - but what a rich and glorious sound they make. It's not the Donner und Blitzen one expects at a major house, but it's plenty enough to catch what lies at the heart of the brooding genius's appeal. And it is Grimeborn after all.
The singers are less cramped and, though sometimes appearing to hold back a little on the vocal volume, fill the space beautifully whether giving it full gas or not. And how different it is to hear German sung rather than Italian or French, the words given weight and threat by a language that makes up in power what it lacks in rhythm.
Alberich (Seth Carico, not dwarfish, but avaricious in eye and wonderfully vulnerable to flattery) is enchanted by three Rheinmädchen whose job it is to guard the magical Rheingold of the title. They're hardly Krakens and soon they're teasing Alberich (who likes what he sees but not the rejection he hears).
The nymphs tell Alberich that if he renounces love, he can forge the gold into a ring that will give him unlimited power. Lust for the Mädchen soon turns to lust for money and the dwarf is off to his own home, ring on finger, where he enslaves his people.
The gods are in uproar because the giants have done their bit and built Valhalla, but Wotan, King of the Gods, is reneging on his part of the deal - namely yielding up his niece, Freia (Kiandra Howarth's soprano in fine form).
Advised by his skivvy, Loge, that the only thing the giants will accept in lieu of Freia is the dwarf's Rheingold, the duplicitous Wotan (a sly Paul Carey Jones) captures Alberich and gains the gold and the ring. Alberich curses anyone who holds the ring - and it proves no idle threat.
There's a lot of boxes on stage - well, we're dealing with all-powerful corporations who deliver things in boxes these days aren't we - and I worried about sometimes for the singers, oft sent up and down a tottering tower of them. Marianne Vidal as Wotan's wife Fricka (maybe the pick of a fine set of singers) I had particular fears for, but she got through unscathed.
These gods, with their clutter feel like us and, with their inability to stick to a deal, also feel like our leaders too. Maybe they should be speaking English rather than German...
It wraps up after 100 intense minutes with a plotting Alberich smirking and the gods in their fortified Valhalla, anything but at ease in their new home, the gold and the ring as accursed as the dwarf promised. What happens next? Well that's what Wikipedia, or, perhaps, Grimeborn 2020, is for.
Photo Lidia Crisafulli