OPERA NEWS - Das Rheingold
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Das Rheingold

Gothenburg Opera

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Stephen Langridge's staging of Das Rheingold at Gothenburg Opera
© Mats Bäcker
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Sigurdarson as Alberich and Sara Suneson as the "Golden Child"
© Mats Bäcker
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Lorentzson and Karnéus as Wotan and Fricka
© Mats Bäcker

STEPHEN LANGRIDGE WILL STEP DOWN as director of opera and drama at Gothenburg Opera next year, when he becomes artistic director at Glyndebourne, but will forge ahead as stage director of his Swedish company’s grand project—a Ring scheduled to end with Götterdämmerung in 2021, the four-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the city by Karl Gustav II. “In life, you can’t go back,” Langridge has said, promising that each opera will be staged once and only once: “we’re doing it our way.”

The Langridge production is literally built on principles of environmental sustainability that the company hopes will set an example. We can assume the “once and only once” strategy means the sets will be up-cycled for each succeeding chapter in the Ring. Given the work’s environmental themes it’s not difficult to link these processes to a directorial vision of the piece. In his Das Rheingold (seen Nov. 21), Langridge again demonstrated his gift for revealing the beating human heart in the most grandiose of works. Alison Chitty’s designs bore her signature tidy refinement (the obligatory Perspex boxes included) and the score was marshaled with skill, individuality and tremendous energy by American maestro Evan Rogister. Rogister offered a dramatic and fluent reading that found fresh beauty in each musical transition but never wallowed in transient orchestral color. The Gothenburg Opera Orchestra sounded gruff and earthy as often as it did godly and serene. I have never heard it tighter or richer, which bodes well for Washington National Opera, where Rogister has just been appointed music director. The detail Rogister drew from his singers was also notable. Gothenburg Opera does not have a huge auditorium but it still felt like a luxury to hear the Rhinemaidens’ exacting placing of consonants and to hear Fricka and Freia given the space to blossom as musical characters. 

The obvious directorial message of Langridge’s Rheingold, which one hopes will be carried through to its logical conclusion in Götterdämmerung, is that we are truly all in this together. We, as humans, exist within the variegated flow of nature’s cycles and it is we who are wronged when its resources are plundered. As Rogister layered-up the Prelude with delectable color, dozens of Gothenburgers of all ages and ethnicities made their way across the stage from left to right, eventually multiplied by holograms of themselves. It was a compelling image against the Prelude’s deep and intangible music, and the dramatic apotheosis of Langridge’s insistence that citizens of this city participate in productions.

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Katarina Karnéus, Henning von Schulman (Fasolt), Anders Lorentzson, Mats Persson (Donner), Mats Almgren (Fafner) and Carolina Sandgren in Langridge's Rheingold staging
© Mats Bäcker

After that personification of the Rhine, we saw ourselves in the gold, which took human form as an understated dancer. The machinations of the gods were reactive: we sensed how slowly but surely Wotan was cornered into poor decisions, under pressure from all sides. Anders Lorentzson has age and wisdom in his voice, if not a huge amount of power, but he had the physical presence for Wotan. Katarina Karnéus was pert and brittle as Fricka and Carolina Sandgren radiant as Freia. Olafur Sigurdarson’s Alberich was sung with richness and patience, never slacking into caricature. The pivotal significance of his placing of the curse was never in doubt nor overplayed. Brenden Gunnell was a master manipulator as Loge, planted in the audience before his first entry and wielding many a raised eyebrow. 

A group of ever-present actors served as stagehands but became active as observers and Nibelungs. Fasolt and Fafner were the plywood-building-site’s contractors in luminous vests; the bridge to Valhalla an assortment of designer plastic housewares that lined the revolve in the colors of the rainbow (a joke about Scandinavian homewares that worked). There is nothing new in those images of modern life, but there is lots new in Langridge’s look at the corporate greed and irresponsibility that this part of the world held out against for longer than most. As Langridge admits, the bigger challenges are yet to come. But this accomplished and at times revelatory start to his Ring sets up the coming catastrophes very nicely indeed.  —Andrew Mellor 

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