Das Rheingold, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, 22 July 2013

rah140x1051What a terrific start to the Ring this was. Even before Daniel Barenboim entered the auditorium, to huge applause, there was a real buzz of anticipation and it all ended with a sustained ovation.

I was not intending to write this up until the end of the cycle, particularly having heard the same conductor and orchestra in Berlin in April, but … I couldn’t resist. From the first glorious notes of Aga Mikolaj as Woglinde to the final enigmatic response of Iain Paterson’s Wotan to Fricka’s question on the meaning of the name Valhalla, this was inspirational.

In this brief review a few highlights will have to suffice. There were plenty, from the lovely quiet notes of Ekaterina Gubanova as Fricka to the commandingly strong voice of Stephen Milling as the giant Fasolt. His scheming brother Fafner was sung with excellent diction by Eric Halfvarson, and the clever demigod Loge was strongly sung by Stephan Rügamer, who took the same role in Berlin, as did Johannes Martin Kränzle in his fine, even noble, portrayal of the hated Alberich. Romanian tenor Marius Vlad gave a fine reading of Froh, and the huge Jan Buchwald gave a terrific account of Donner.

But apart from the singers, the Staatskapelle Berlin under Daniel Barenboim shone with sensitivity and vigour, and Thomas Keller on the tuba made superb sounds for the giants’ entrance, and the transformation of Alberich into a giant serpent. There were wonderful moments of orchestral colour for Alberich’s emotional mocking of the gods on their wonnigen Höh’n, and when he uses the Ring to command his Nibelungs to bring the gold, the violins simply trembled in their seats to produce multiple fortissimos.

Wonderful stuff, and no annoying director to distract from the effect, unlike Guy Cassiers in Berlin! Not even a spear for Wotan, just some simple lighting on the back surround of the orchestra, where the blue of the Rhine turned to a golden green as soon as the Gold motif arose in the orchestra. With a prologue like this, I can’t wait for the rest.

Die Walküre continues tonight, 23 July.

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