This concert performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, the first part of his monumental Ring Cycle (which Festival Director Fergus Linehan wants to stage soon) may be the operatic highlight of the Festival, indeed of the year in Scotland. It is long at 2 hours 40 minutes, with no interval. Indeed, the audience at the Usher Hall should be praised for their endurance, their close attention and their rapturous response to what for many may be the greatest operatic experience of their life.
Of course it isn’t perfect; the orchestra seem a little slow at times, maybe due to maestro Gergiev‘s rather languid approach to conducting. Occasionally, it feels a little under-rehearsed and inevitably suffers in comparison with the recent Opera North Ring Cycle which, being built up over four years and being performed five times this summer, achieved perfect harmony. Knowing Gergiev’s hectic international schedule, the Mariinsky Opera company presumably didn’t have long rehearsal period.
Despite these caveats, Das Rheingold is truly powerful tonight. In particular, there isn’t one weak singer among the fourteen on stage. Indeed, vocally this is a superior Rheingold to Opera North, and indeed comparable to any Ring Cycle I have heard in my 50 years of opera going. These singers, all of them products of the great music education system in Russia and the high standards of the Mariinsky Opera in St Petersburg are little known in Europe, yet are superb tonight. The Wotan of Vitalji Kowaljow is a vocal rock at the centre of the opera. He is flanked by a superb sardonic Loge, Mikhail Vekua and the fine Alberich of Vladislav Sulimsky. The women were also superb, from the strikingly red dressed Rhinemaidens, through to the sumptuous voiced Erda of Anna Kiknadze, and the vision in white that was Fricka sung smoothly by Ekaterina Semenchuk.
The Mariinsky did stage a Ring Cycle once at Covent Garden some years ago but it was poorly received. What tonight showed, and indeed the Opera North Ring Cycle, is that actually Wagner’s great sixteen hour music marathon, which many view as one of the highlights of opera, is best done in concert performance. Then we can concentrate on the music and the singing, and not be distracted by often clunky stagings. Fergus Linehan is to be congratulated for bringing Rheingold to us last night, and ought to commission the Mariinsky to give us the whole Ring Cycle over the next four years. On last night’s showing the Mariinsky are well capable of doing it.