Das Rheingold, Royal Opera House, London

A new lord of the Ring

It is with the lowest sonorities and the highest expectations that any major opera house embarks on a new Ring cycle. String basses sound their profoundest E flat, bassoons add a B flat, and with that immovable two-note chord, Wagner first plumbs the depths of the Rhine while, one after another, eight horns fold his magical Rhine motif into the texture. And with it, a glimmer of light.

We see that light - the Rhine gold - a pinprick in the darkness, at the start of Keith Warner's new Royal Opera staging. It hovers elusively, temptingly, something just out of reach for us all. So far, so simple. Would that what follows were, too.

But the truth is that Warner's Ring will need to shed a great deal of excess baggage as it proceeds on its momentous journey. There were moments during this opening instalment when it threatened to sink back to where it began 14 hours ahead of schedule. Wagner both embraced and transcended technology, but Warner is somewhat hampered by it.

Stefanos Lazaridis is his designer. Right from the outset, when Alberich arrives by boat down a spiralling track redolent of something from Disneyland, we ask ourselves if the means justifies the end. Not here, it doesn't. But then, later in that scene, director and designer give us something really breathtaking when the swirling waters of the Rhine seem to coalesce into a projection of a spinning globe: the ultimate prize for those with power and ambition.

Wotan appears right on cue here, a primitive, mythical form in animal furs, with rough-hewn spear. Underneath, he wears full evening dress. His des res - Valhalla Towers - is a fabulous black, marble-lined penthouse, high above the clouds, with vast windows on the world. The gods are on the inside, looking out. The giants who built it are on the outside, looking in. They arrive, as is appropriate for artisans, by ladder.

And, oddly, Alberich's magic helmet, the Tarnhelm, bears more than a passing resemblance to the gods' high-security fortress. Dreams and the realisation of them are key factors in Warner's staging, but he's going to have to keep his designer on a tighter rein.

Probably the most effective aspect of Warner's staging thus far is his depiction of character. At the heart of the Ring - when you strip it right back to its bare essentials - is human nature. The relationship between Wotan and Loge, his dubious adviser, is striking here. Bryn Terfel's vocally sensational Wotan is a commanding captain of industry with a notably short fuse. He doesn't suffer fools gladly. He doesn't suffer them at all.

During the scene in Nibelheim - which Warner and Lazaridis play out as a dubious research laboratory where humans as opposed to animals are the new age of guinea pigs - Wotan loses his temper, while Loge uses his head. Philip Langridge - bespectacled, with bald head and red pigtail - plays him with uncustomary edge. He's no longer just the joker in the pack, but a wily Mr Fixit with a conspicuously mean streak. This god of fire is actually a bit of a pyromaniac, who liberates Alberich's put-upon brother Mime (the excellent Gerhard Siegel) by threatening to set him alight. While the gods contemplate Valhalla, he's contemplating his next flambé.

The casting of this Rheingold is generally strong at all levels. A German Alberich is always an asset, and Günter von Kannen plays the text terrifically well. Vocally he's less impressive, but with Terfel close at hand through most of the opera, everyone tends to be shown up vocally - certainly Mrs Wotan (Rosalind Plowright's Fricka), though physically she cuts an imperiously domestic figure.

There's another seasoned and marvellous performance from Jane Henschel as the earth goddess Erda. And, as Antonio Pappano and his magnificent orchestra process us across the rainbow bridge, Wotan is seen bearing down on her to sire the Valkyries... same place, next year in Der Ring.

To 10 January (020-7304 4000)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor