Along with James Joyce’s Ulysses and the film Citizen Kane, Wagner’s Ring Cycle is one of the cultural peaks that most intelligent folks must attempt to surmount once in their life. Many people get stuck in the foothills of the first ten pages of Buck Mulligan’s lathering up or pass off a knowledge to what the whispered Snowball refers. However, for those looking to be make their way up the path, an easier path has been offered.
Rhinegold is a retelling of the first part of the Ring Cycle. Instead of spiked helmets and arias, the essence of the work has been distilled, using multi-media and blurring the boundaries between theatre, music and opera.
The story concerns the Viking gods Wotan and Fricka who have had a home built for them by the giants Fasolt and Fafner. In lieu of payment for the castle, Wotan has offered Fricka’s sister, Freia, the goddess of youth, beauty and feminine love. It is a short-term arrangement with Wotan confident of securing another method for paying the giants.
This payment may be in the form of a magic ring, that is currently in the hands of a dwarf called Alberich. He is eventually tricked into handing it over, but not before cursing it, setting up the basis for the rest of the cycle’s dramatic action.
The way in which the story is told differs markedly from any other kind of production. Whereas traditional productions are bold, brash and dramatic, underpinned by Richard Wagner’s bombastic score, this is stark and austere. There are no librettos and the piece is filled with long periods of silence. Yet the production is a success, distilling the central themes and drama of Wagner’s piece and presenting it in an entirely new way.
At its heart, the story is one about love. For all the elements of magic, cursed rings and maidens in the river, the themes of renouncing love and what it means to give it up are well presented. The production is inventive and engaging, making use of video, physical theatre and even the odd spot of opera to make for a spectacle that retains your attention throughout.
If there is one criticism, it’s that you will have to do your homework before going if you want to get the most out of the show. For those unfamiliar with the story, it will be hard to know what is going on. A little bit more grounding of the story would have helped the show have more of a context. But this is just one quibble for something that is a great introduction to one of western culture’s behemoths.
Rhinegold runs until June 30 at:
The Yard Theatre