What a way to open the season. The Covent Garden Ring is back, reworked and repolished by its original director. Five years after its last showing, Keith Warner has scaled down some of the clutter and arcane symbolism in favour of a more character-driven approach. There are still suitcases that won’t open, ropes that won’t untie, tittersomely inept transformations and a resolutely-ignored dead giant on the patio. But the fumbles are fewer, and less distracting in the face of uniformly superb acting (and slightly less uniform singing).
Warner emphatically takes sides at this point in the cycle. Alberich is no forgivably greedy idiot, but a sadistic rapist from the start. A matriarchal Valhalla is dominated by Sarah Connolly’s aristocratic Fricka. Bryn Terfel’s thoughtful but fallible Wotan shows his sensitive side when he liberates a Nibelung female from Alberich’s lecherous grasp. Fasolt and Freia’s mutual affection is so touching that his death is a genuine blow. If not quite a feminist reading, it is at least quiche-eating.
The fine vocal performances from Bryn Terfel and Sarah Connolly were predictable, but there was quality to be found across the board. Ann Petersen’s Freia was crisp and radiant, and the young German contralto Maria Radner made an unusually sensual Erda. Iain Paterson actually sang Fasolt rather than barking half the part in what has become the customary fashion. (The rest I will get to 'later').
Pappano's Wagner will never be for everyone - he just doesn't establish thematic connections as strongly as some other conductors. On the other hand, his tempi were so well judged the action just flew by. My complaint on this occasion was that his balance often over-favoured the brass to the point where they drowned out everything else.
Now, I was sitting rather close to Tubby the tuba and his mates, but then I usually do, and it’s not a problem I’ve noticed much before. I’d be interested to
hear what people further away thought.