The Rhinegold, English National Opera

Great music, but blink and you will miss the magic
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The Independent Culture

Ah, well. This ought to have been the ultimate vindication of the Nicholas Payne/Paul Daniel regime at the ENO. It was they who set in motion this new production of Wagner's Ring cycle; they too who inveigled Phyllida Lloyd, during their inspired joint regime at Opera North, from Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre to direct her first operas, with stunning results.

If the newly revamped ENO's latest modern dress Rhinegold - hot on the heels of Scottish Opera's award winning effort - is a little less than arresting, it's not because of the music. It was not just Paul Daniel's shaping of the interludes, gradually worked up into fabulously controlled frenzies of orchestral wizardry, that registered, but the link passages that Wagner dots around, often welling up beneath a single vocal line - Tom Randle's prepossessing, gum-chewing, cigarette- swivelling Loge, or Iain Paterson's appealing Fasolt, at which the orchestra seemed to excel. And where the real magic was needed - the Tarnhelm music, where Andrew Shore's lucid Alberich shows off his new found toys, or the undertow to Patricia Bardon's galvanising Erda - delicate, finessed - if you blinked (as she did, incessantly), you probably missed something.

While Jeremy Sams' new translation works a treat, the production is full of ideas. Or half-ideas. And that's the problem. Here is the music delivering this skein of closely worked leitmotifs, every one of which tells a story, and something is evolving in front of our eyes which, to a casual dropper in, would seem unintelligible.

Mr and Mrs Wotan occupy a pleasant, airy Belgravia apartment; sons and daughters come and go (rather good ones: one would gladly hear more of Andrew Rees's Froh and Darren Jeffery's Donner, though acting here wasn't their line). We meet Robert Hayward's wonderfully sung Wotan getting out of a much-employed bath. He has only to open his mouth and this show, after a naffish but well sung Rhinemaidens opening, lifted onto a new plane.

Randle as yet lacks the cutting edge for Loge, though his sustained energy revealed new talents. It was the baddies who made the running: eclipsing even Shore's forceful Alberich, John Graham Hall's put-upon Mime, whose frettings in the gloom stole the show. What a dramatic range this guy, who once sung Aschenbach for an indisposed Robert Tear, has. There are a lot of gold hoses, a superb rope bridge and a clutter of other ideas. Thank Valhallas for what was happening in the pit.

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