Birmingham Opera Company's RhineGold


Birmingham Opera Company and CBSO at Symphony Hall ****
There could have been no more fitting tribute to the late Graham Vick than this exhilarating presentation of Wagner's RhineGold from Birmingham Opera Company.
Barely two weeks since its founder and artistic director passed away from Covid complications BOC pulled out all the stops to present his vision to an enthusiastic Symphony Hall audience. The original idea had been to perform in a disused factory, typical of Vick's community opera style, the audience shuffling around between various performing locations and mixing with hundreds of supernumeraries from local groups. Whatever the reason for the change of venue, its virtue was that we lost the Vickian fingerprints which some found irritating, and were able instead to focus upon his artistic vision conveyed via some brilliant staging.
A raised circus ring stood where the front centre stalls would usually be, two ramps leading up to it, with entrances coming from the auditorium doors. Lighting towers were conspicuous, along with lanterns ranged around the diameter of the stage, and effects were both dramatic and atmospheric. Furnishings were just a table and two chairs, and props were minimal, cleverly deployed.
Rheingold (forgive my reverting to the opera's usual title) is the prequel to the rest of Wagner's Ring cycle, and there is a lot of background to convey. So much needs to be taken in that the political sloganizing on placards and tee-shirts was gratuitous and superfluous, really my only doubt about this wonderful production.
Costumes were imaginative, the Rhinemaidens sparkling in silver mini-dresses, the Gods were obviously upper-class, Donner for example a spoilt baseball brat (the bat became his thunder-hammer), the Giants high-vis, hard-hatted labourers.
The cast was of a consistently high quality, and diction in Jeremy Sams' congenial translation became more intelligible as the ear adjusted to the acoustic. Eric Greene grew in stature as Wotan, Ross Ramgobin was perhaps an over-charismatic Alberich, John-Colyn Gyeantey was brilliant as his bullied brother Mime, and Gweneth-Ann Rand was an hypnotic Erda (I have never seen a badly-cast Erda).
But the acting honours belonged to Brenden Gunnell's Loge, heavy metal in his appearance, remarkably versatile in vocal delivery (though showing a little strain towards the end), and resourcefully meaningful in his throwaway body-language.
Behind the performing area was nothing less than the CBSO, socially distanced on the concert stage, 80-plus musicians delivering Wagner's tremendous score with both delicacy and power, and immense stamina during the 160 minutes of this single-act opera. Conductor Alpesh Chauhan had obviously rehearsed his players meticulously, and his accompaniment to the action allowed all the leitmotif detail to tell whilst maintaining a forward-moving flow.
And Chauhan's conducting of the affirmative conclusion in Valhalla took us right back to the primordial opening deep in the Rhine. He had secured one vast phrase in one huge sweep.
Christopher Morley

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