Wotan (James French) has commissioned Fasholt (David Pica) and Fafner (Christopher Hammond) to build him a magnificant home in the sky. However, he cannot pay the asking price, and so the default bargain is his sister-in-law Freia (Ceridwen Smith). Alberich, (Nick Figgis) in his isolated underworld, has denounced love – therefore earning him unlimited power after stealing a magic tongue fresh from Rhinemadien Woglinda’s (Virginia Scudeletti) mouth. In order to pay Fasholt and Fafner’s ransom, Wotan seeks the power that Alberich holds.
A retelling of the opera by Richard Wagner, it’s unclear what audience this devised adaptation is aimed at. There are so much clumsy abstracts involved that it really begs prior knowledge of the opera. But even then its not exactly clear what is going on. For example, does a young Alberich’s broken vinyl records represent the taunting of the Rhinemadiens that made him denounce love? And what’s the importance of Alberich’s video camera? There is absolutely no clarity or coherence against the original plot or clues as to much of what’s going on outside of a very basic story. It’s the subtleties and complexities that make Wagner’s opera the epic it is, and here they’ve been thrown out with the bath water. Anyone new to the narrative will no doubt be left feeling just as – if not more – confused as staunch Wagner enthusiasts. Furthermore there is no explanation of characters or plot offered in the programme or elsewhere to help matters.
Rhinegold is still very much an opera in a broad sense. There’s still music throughout, which is probably the only strength the show has. Composer Harry Blake samples or recreates motifs from Wagner’s original score and plays about with them using an array of electronic sounds and interactivity to subtly evoke the familiar passages in a bold and creative fashion. There is also some interesting use of lighting from Christina Smith, especially playing with shadows – for example using them to hint at the fact that Falshot and Fafner are supposed to be giants. However, libretto here is defined in a loose sense. Alan Harris whittles lyrics and dialogue down to a few bursts of incredibly stilted lines and an appalling karaoke ballad for Alberich to unceremoniously warble. There is nothing lyrical, poetic, or theatrical about it.
As for the strength of the cast it’s very difficult to comment on their ability. Apart from a few physical outbursts and forced dialogue they don’t really do much else. Figgis is the only cast member who has any significant stage time and character, and he seems to handle his stumbling about drunk with power fairly well. But Alberich still feels shallow as there is no opportunity for deeper development.
The concept of the retelling and the multidisciplinary approach is a noble idea and could have worked so well, especially played out among the wild bohemian atmosphere the venue breathes. It’s just such a shame that the entire show is flat, bewildering, and poorly conceived – resulting in nothing more than an obtuse and pretentious butchering of Wagner’s work. Opera buffs and theatre-goers alike should actively avoid this as it’s enough to make Wagner himself turn in his grave – which would probably involve a lot of noise that would last for longer than needed. But at least it will be more enjoyable that this unfortunate production.
Rhinegold plays at The Yard Theatre, London, E9 5EN until 30 June 2012. Tickets are £9 (£4 on Tuesdays). To book visit theyardtheatre.co.uk
Featured Image: Promotional image. Photograph: Courtesy of liveartshow.