Das Rheingold by Richard Wagner. The Arcola theatre, Dalston, London E 8 to 10 August. 4****. William Russell

Das Rheingold
By Richard Wagner
In the version by Graham Vick and Jonathan Dove.

The Arcola, 24 Ashwin Street, London E8 5DL to 10 August 2019.
At 7.30pm
Runs 1hr 45mins No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: William Russell 2 August.

Well sung and acted this production, the first Wagner opera to be included in the annual Grimeborn season, is a triumph. It is not Wagner as you would hear and see him at Bayreuth, Covent Garden or the Coliseum but as an introduction to the Ring Cycle, the tale of the end of the Gods, the Ring Saga could hardly be bettered. The staging is questionable. Director Julia Burbach and Designer Bettina John have created a world of old cardboard boxes meant to echo the streets round this north London fringe theatre housed in an old warehouse. There is a distinctly shaky looking staircase linking Valhalla with the world below. Directors do play fast and loose with opera settings, but the problem is it looks cheap without making much of a point, a flaw redeemed, however, by the quality of the performances. The music has been rescored for an orchestra of 19 so you don’t get the massive sonorities of the great opera houses, but situated beneath the balcony that forms one side of the Arcola it benefits from a kind of echo chamber effect which magnifies the sound.
The story is simple. Alberich the dwarf, played as a normal young man by the rather handsome Seth Carico, probably the best looking Alberich ever, and possibly the tallest, discovers three Rhine maidens at play. He wants them, but wants even more their gold, which he ends up stealing and fashioning some into a ring with magical powers. The Gods under Wotan have a problem. Loge, a demi God, tells Wotan they can get the gold from Alberich. The giants meanwhile have taken Freia, goddess of Beauty, as collateral, which has had the side effect of depriving the gods of the apples that keep them young. One thing leads to another, the giants fall out, Alberich loses the ring, and after some tribulations the gods leave for what they hope is a happy future. Little do they know what Wagner has in store.
The result is an enthralling evening. The Orpheus Sinfonia conducted by Peter Selwyn play the score very well indeed and the result makes perfectly clear that there is no reason to be wary of opera or Wagner. Carico is a terrific Alberich matched by a fine Mafia boss from Paul Carey-Jones as Wotan, while Philip Sheffield creates trouble all round as the devious Loge. There is also a breathtaking interruption from Erda, goddess of the Earth, who turns out to be the annoying lady who is first seen crossing the stage taking photographs on her camera. The slimmed down plot works perfectly and the chances are this is the highlight of this year’s Grimborn season at the Arcola – hopefully the rest of the Ring Saga created by Vick and Dove from Wagner’s four operas will follow.
Wotan: Paul Carey-Jones.
Fricka/Wellgunde: Claire Barnett-Jones.
Donner: Gareth Brynmor John.
Alberich: Seth Carico.
Freia/Woglinde: Klnadrath Howarth.
Flosshilde: Angharad Lyddon.
Loge: Philip Sheffield.
Fasolt: Andrew Tipple.
Fricka/Wellgunde: Marianne Vidal.
Erda: Harriet Williams.
Fafner: Dingle Yandell.
Director: Julia Burbach.
Conductor: Peter Selwyn.
Designer: Bettina John.
Lighting Designer: Robert Price.
Production photographs: Linda Crisafulli.

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