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In BBC Proms, Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on July 23, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Review – Das Rheingold (BBC Prom – Monday 22 July 2013)

Wotan – Iain Paterson
Fricka – Ekaterina Gubanova
Alberich – Johannes Martin Kränzle
Loge – Stephan Rügamer
Fasolt – Stephen Milling
Fafner – Eric Halfvason
Mime – Peter Bronder
Woglinde – Aga Mikolaj
Wellgunde – Maria Gortsevskaya
Flosshilde – Anna Lapkovskaja
Freia – Anna Samuil
Donner – Jan Buchwald
Froh – Marius Vlad
Erda – Anna Larsson

Staatskapelle Berlin
Daniel Barenboim (Conductor)

… is most definitely gold.

Daniel Barenboim, an almost excellent cast and the luminous Staatskapelle launched the BBC Proms’ first ever Ring Cycle with an incredibly dramatic and committed performance of Das Rheingold.

Even before he had raised his baton, an excited and enthusiastic audience greeted Barenboim. And he didn’t disappoint. Seemingly from out of nowhere he drew the opening notes from the Staatskapelle Berlin with both incredible precision and dynamic control.

Das Rheingold is not the most dramatic of the four operas that make up the cycle but from the onset Barenboim found an unerring sense of drama in both the music and the singing. Indeed, there was a muscularity to the orchestral playing that is often lacking from this opening opera and not once – despite the sometimes troubling acoustic of the Royal Albert Hall – did Barenboim fail also to point up the delicacy of Wagner’s orchestral writing.

And the orchestra responded in kind with some of the most luminous playing I have heard in a long time at the Proms or anywhere else. The strings – including the harps – had both depth and warmth, the brass was incredibly burnished and the woodwind’s beautifully pointed playing sparkled throughout.

And Barenboim kept a tight leash on the dynamics, not unleashing the full force of the orchestra until the very end as the Gods entered Valhalla.

I could easily have listened to the Staatskapelle perform Das Rheingold “ohne worte”, but above their incredibly and accomplished playing, Barenboim deployed an almost faultless cast. Glancing at the programme most of the singers have sung in this production it seems with Barenboim in Berlin and the sense of ensemble shone through.

And none of the singers was ‘lost’ in the hall’s acoustic either.

The three Rhinemaidens – Aga Mikolaj, Maria Gortsevskaya and Anna Lapkovskaja – not only sang their roles individually with great aplomb and vocal warmth but their ensemble singing was mesmerising.

The Alberich of Johannes Martin Kränzle was a strongly nuanced performance and his curse was chilling. For his short time on stage, Peter Bronder captured the sniveling character of Mime perfectly and I look forward to his return in Siegfried. Similarly the giants Fasolt and Fafner were nicely caricatured with Fasolt bringing at times an almost lieder-like delivery to some of his vocal lines. And while Jan Buchwald and Marius Vlad as Donner and Froh respectively gave fine performances, personally I found Anna Samuil’s Freia rather sharp with a distracting vibrato. Strangely it seemed to fit the goddess’s sense of hysteria but I hope that her Gutrune is less shrill.

I have always enjoyed Anna Larsson’s singing and her Erda – from above the orchestra – was thrilling. Ms Larsson has a rich and resonant mezzo perfectly suited to this role and again I look forward to her confrontation with Wotan later on.

But it was Fricka, Wotan and Loge who stole the evening vocally.

Stephan Rügamer was a perfect Loge. His light yet bright tenor rose above the orchestra to portray the character to perfection and put me in mind of Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke’s Loge for Opera North. From his initial appearance to his final – almost snarling – closing words as he left the Gods to their own devices, Rügamer made it clear that this Loge had nothing but contempt for his half-brothers and sisters. It was a shame to realize we won’t be hearing him again.

I enjoyed Iain Paterson’s Gunther in the Met’s production of the Ring and his Wotan for Barenboim showed great promise for a complete Wotan in a cycle at some point in the near future I hope. His interpretation of this Rheingold Wotan was both thoughtful and well sung. He displayed both Wotan’s godlike arrogance as well as his insecurity with some distinctive and shaded singing.

But for me it was Ekaterina Gubanova’s Fricka who gave the strongest performance. As in the recent Gergiev recording, she manages to find the balance between Goddess and Wife with a lustrous, well-rounded and even voice that digs into the words. Simply marvelous and her confrontation with her husband in Die Walküre should raise the temperature a few degrees.

There was always going to be a real sense of excitement and high expectation with this Ring Cycle at the Proms.

Barenboim, the soloists and the Staatskapelle did not disappoint.

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  3. […] und Isolde smack bang in the middle of Barenboim’s magnificent Ring cycle at the Proms. With Das Rheingold, Die Walküre and Siegfried still fresh in the audience’s mind – unkindly or not – […]

  4. […] the opening bars of Das Rheingold, through the drama of Die Walküre and the closing ecstasy of Siegfried to the final Immolation […]

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